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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: "Spirits of Lakewood: Hidden Secrets" by Samantha Rindfuss


When Sophie’s father dies, she goes to live with her grandmother, Emma. Before she even gets to the house, bad dreams start, dreams she later learns are being brought on by the ghost of Carol, a girl who died in the house long before. The ghost continues to haunt her from the first day, and then, Sophie learns from her new schoolmates, Lillian and Thomas, that her grandmother’s house is not just a normal house; it was once a funeral home owned by Carol’s father, a distraught man who went insane after his daughter’s death and eventually hung himself.

Carol gives Sophie an ultimatum; find a way for her to reunite with her father’s spirit, or die herself. Only Lillian and Thomas believe Sophie’s story, and they set out to help her comply with the ghostly command.

An interesting ghost of possession and danger, that tends, unfortunately, to drag a bit in places, but that is nonetheless an interesting read, and is probably written appropriately for younger readers.

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The National Memo » Gun Extremists Heckle Father Of Newtown Victim

The National Memo » Gun Extremists Heckle Father Of Newtown Victim

The National Memo » Poll: Texans Oppose Rick Perry’s Re-Election

The National Memo » Poll: Texans Oppose Rick Perry’s Re-Election

The National Memo » Can Republicans Ever Stop Being The ‘Stupid Party’?

The National Memo » Can Republicans Ever Stop Being The ‘Stupid Party’?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Free flow of ideas now available in other languages

Montage of languages. Prototype header for the...
Montage of languages. Prototype header for the language portal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As a service to my readers for whom English is not a first language, I've added translation capability to the site. You'll notice to the right of this article is a Google+ translation button. If you press that button, it will take you to another page where you'll see boxes into which you can enter the language of the blog (English) and the target language (select from the pulldown menu, German or Japanese, for instance), and then in the box below that, type 'http://charlesaray.blogspot.com' and click on the translate button.

The site will come up in the selected language, and across the top of the page will be a menu bar that enables you to select other languages as well.

Following are examples of how the first paragraph of my review of Tom Barry's When the Siren Calls look in German and Japanese:

In Tom Barry 's Roman, wenn die Sirene Calls, sind wir Jay Brooke, ein Geschäftemacher eingeführt Immobilien Manipulator mit einer glatten Linie zum Einhängen naive Investoren und eine fatale Anziehungskraft auf Frauen. Working an iffy time-share deal in Tuscany , Jay meets Isobel Roberts, a frustrated woman married to a workaholic, and seeking meaning in her life. Arbeiten eine iffy Time-Sharing- Angebot in der Toskana , trifft Jay Isobel Roberts, eine frustrierte Frau, verheiratet mit einem Workaholic, und die Suche nach Sinn in ihrem Leben. As these two planets orbit closer and closer to each other, circumstances conspire to cause perturbations in both lives. Da diese beiden Planeten umkreisen näher und näher an einander, verschwören Umständen Störungen in beiden Leben führen.

トム·バリーの小説サイレンコールは 、我々はジェイ·ブルック、やり手に導入したら 、不動産の女性にナイーブな投資家や致命的な魅力を引っ掛けるための滑らかなラインを持つマニピュレータ。 Working an iffy time-share deal in Tuscany , Jay meets Isobel Roberts, a frustrated woman married to a workaholic, and seeking meaning in her life. あやふやなワーキングタイムシェアの契約をトスカーナ 、ジェイはイゾベル·ロバーツ、仕事中毒に結婚して挫折女性、そして彼女の人生に意味を求めてを満たしています。 As these two planets orbit closer and closer to each other, circumstances conspire to cause perturbations in both lives. 近づくお互いにこれら二つの惑星の軌道のように、状況が両方の生活の乱れを引き起こすために共謀。

As you can see, the translations aren't perfect, but it does at least expand the reach of my blog, and hopefully Google's translation program will improve in the future.

Appreciate reader's comments.
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: "When the Siren Calls" by Tom Barry


In Tom Barry’s novel When the Siren Calls, we’re introduced to Jay Brooke, a wheeler-dealer real estate manipulator with a smooth line for hooking naïve investors and a fatal attraction to women. Working an iffy time-share deal in Tuscany, Jay meets Isobel Roberts, a frustrated woman married to a workaholic, and seeking meaning in her life. As these two planets orbit closer and closer to each other, circumstances conspire to cause perturbations in both lives.

Lucy has her sights on Jay, and has hooks in him. The time-share deal, which he has drawn his friend Andy into, is in danger of coming apart at the seams, and Jay finds himself painted not so neatly into a corner; with no apparent escape.

Suspenseful, touching, erotic; all are adjectives that aptly describe Barry’s handling of this novel that defies neat categorization. The author’s familiarity with the setting is apparent in every scene, and he uses setting extremely well to establish mood. The characters in When the Siren Calls are a troupe of complex, flawed creatures, driven by greed, loneliness,  the desire for revenge, but most importantly, by the need to be noticed.

Though not a mystery, this is a page-turner that is guaranteed to keep you up late. It has humor, suspense, and will keep you reading until the last page; and then, salivating for more.
 

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Diplomacy Museum Launched

http://voices.yahoo.com/clinton-baker-launch-diplomacy-museum-washington-11989705.html?cat=75

Artist's concept of the new US Diplomacy Center.   
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former secretary James Baker III
at the launch of the new US Diplomacy Center.

Get Free e-Books for Your Kindle!

I'm making a special offer of free copies of the following books for Kindle for the dates indicated. Get yours!
Dead Man's Cove, an Al Pennyback mystery, http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Mans-Pennyback-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B009S7528G/ January 27 - February 1

Further Adventures of Wallace in Underland: Wallace Saves the King, http://www.amazon.com/Further-Adventures-Wallace-Underland-ebook/dp/B009JSRE4Y/ January 28 - February 1

Angel on His Shoulder, http://www.amazon.com/Angel-on-His-Shoulder-ebook/dp/B008DYPPI2/ January 29 - February 2

                         

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The National Memo » This Week In Crazy: January 25 Edition

The National Memo » This Week In Crazy: January 25 Edition

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Need for a US Diplomatic Code of Ethical Conduct



English: Loy W. Henderson (1892-06-28 – 1986-0...
English: Loy W. Henderson (1892-06-28 – 1986-03-24) was a United States Foreign Service Officer and diplomat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  Nowadays, especially since the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, professions and organizations around the world are paying more attention to the need for ethical professionalism standards to guide their activities. Research has shown that cheating has become more commonplace, especially among young people, and while there is not enough data to indicate whether or not this is a clear global trend, it is nonetheless worth being concerned about.

What is inarguable is that any profession needs a grounded ethical code to guide the activities of its members if it is to be successful in our increasingly globalized world.

It’s worth thinking about just why this is so. First; a clearly understood code of ethical behavior helps guide the individual member of the profession in carrying out his or her responsibilities, and protects the individual from outside pressure to ‘bend the rules.’ A sound code is invaluable in explaining the profession to outsiders, and aids in professional interactions with those within and outside the profession. More importantly, for professions that serve the general public, a code establishes the expectations that those being served have regarding that profession.

For 30 years, until I retired in September 2012, I served in the US Foreign Service (and for 20 years before that in the US Army), working at a number of American diplomatic posts both in the United States and abroad. During my service as an American diplomat, I was often dismayed at the lack of understanding most people outside the profession have of what diplomats do. The most common phrase I heard throughout that time was, “a diplomat is someone sent abroad to lie for his country.” From the inside, I knew this to be false. Most of my colleagues were decent, dedicated individuals who operated according to a strict ethical code, serving often in dangerous situations, and performing heroic, but unheralded jobs in the service to their nation and its people.

Why, then, did people fail to understand the profession? There are probably a lot of reasons, but one that impressed me most was the fact that, while there are reams of regulations concerning proper ethical conduct, nowhere was there a clearly defined code of ethical conduct easily accessible to diplomats or the outside world. Other than anecdotal information, or the often distorted and inaccurate portrayals of bureaucratic and snobbish diplomats in popular media, there was no easy to access and understand code of ethical professional behavior that told anyone what the profession of diplomacy is all about.

It became clear to me, therefore, that diplomacy, as any other profession, would be best served if it was made accessible to the general public. Diplomats would be more effective in carrying out their important tasks if they knew, not just what they should avoid doing, but what they are expected to do. Our current ethical regulations, though scattered about dozens of volumes and almost requiring a law degree to fully understand, effectively distinguish between right and wrong behavior, but they are useless in helping professionals make the often hard choice between two courses of action, both of which are ‘right,’ but one of which might be more appropriate and effective. The individual is left to his or her own personal code of behavior in making such decisions, and, while the right (or appropriate) decision is made in most cases, it would be more effective if the individual had aspirational guidelines to help in the decision making process. Furthermore, such a code would help outsiders better understand the reasoning behind the decisions made.

Like the US Military Code of Conduct, promulgated after the Korean War and the unfortunate collaboration with the enemy by many soldiers who had not been prepared for the propaganda employed against them, a diplomatic code of conduct, introduced during the beginning of a career and constantly reinforced throughout that career, would better prepare our diplomats for the world in which they must operate today, where they must contend not only with officials of the governments to whom they’re accredited, but with the many nongovernmental groups and individuals who impact foreign affairs in ways not thought of in the early days of international diplomacy.
No longer should American diplomacy be burdened with the image of ‘someone sent abroad to lie for his or her country.’ As the new US administration prepares to face the challenges of the next four years, establishing a well-understood, respected, professional corps of diplomats should be one of its top priorities.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

US Museum of Diplomacy Closer to Reality

English: Hillary Clinton takes oath-of-office ...
English: Hillary Clinton takes oath-of-office as United States Secretary of State. Bill Clinton also pictured. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Diplomacy
Diplomacy (Photo credit: rinkjustice)
Over a decade ago, recognizing that there were more than 500 museums in the US that showcase the contributions of the military, but not a single one that covers the work that American diplomats have done valiantly since before the founding of the republic, a group of senior officials, including former secretaries of state and members of Congress, began to promote the idea of establishing a museum and center that would educate Americans on the important role diplomacy played and continues to play in our security and prosperity.

The project languished for a long time until Hillary Rodham Clinton became Secretary of State, and threw her support and amazing fund-raising ability behind it. On January 25, along with former Secretary James Baker, Clinton will launch the US Diplomacy Center and Museum which will be housed in the Department of State's main building in Foggy Bottom, between C and D Streets Northwest, and just west of the National Mall.

This unique project will showcase the history and importance of diplomacy and the contributions of members of the Foreign Service through interactive exhibits and outreach programs to American high schools.

Anyone wanting to know more about the center can visit the Website of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the professional association of the Foreign Service, at:
www.afsa.org/usdc.


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Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: "Living Half Free" by Haley Whitehall


If you’re offended by harsh racial epithets and violence, you might not want to read Living Half Free, a first novel by Haley Whitehall. Set in the South before, during, and after the Civil War, it tells the story of Zachariah, a very light skinned black who is held in slavery, and who is sold away from his family, and taken from Virginia into the deep South, where he faces harshness and bigotry worse than he’s ever encountered.

Over time, he earns his freedom and meets a young Indian woman, Lillian, and the two fall in love. Able to pass himself off as white, he’s able to live with Lillian on the reservation, until the arrival of the sadistic son of his second master uncovers his identity. Zachariah then learns that prejudice runs just as deep among the Indians as the whites and is forced to accept being put back into slavery to save Lillian from the tribe’s harsh punishment. Lillian uses her wiles to free him once again, and the two of them flee to California where the prejudice is less.

As you follow Zachariah through his life, beginning in Strasburg, Virginia in 1838, to San Francisco in 1867, you will be alternately moved and repulsed; moved at how his strong faith helps him survive the severest of conditions, and repulsed at the depths of depravity to which some people can sink in their treatment of others.

This is a great story, only a bit in parts by what is difficult for even the most experienced writers – dialect that sometimes doesn’t ring quite true. Dialect, when written, depends on the reader’s pronunciation to be rendered, and having grown up in the South in the 50s and 60s, when some people still spoke much like they did during the 19th century, as well as being a writer and teacher of English, I found some of the words and sentences a bit difficult to comprehend, and not like I recall old people of my childhood talking. The author can be forgiven, though; this is one of the most difficult skills to master, and some of us never truly get it. Once you get past these few glitches, though, you’ll find this a good read, for a first timer who I predict will get better with time.

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Anatomy of a Mystery: A Brief Guide to Writing Mysteries

Anatomy of a Mystery: A Brief Guide to Writing Mysteries

Andrew Young to Newsmax: Obama’s ‘Very Existence Is a Tribute’ to MLK

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: "The Lurking Man" by Keith Rommel


Cailean, a self-pitying alcoholic; a failure as a wife, mother, and person, finds herself in a strange place, in conversation with an even stranger person, Sariel.  Forced to relive events in her tortured life before she dies, she comes face-to-face with the demon that lives inside her; an evil that has consumed her since childhood.
Keith Rommel’s The Lurking Man is a tale that is both chilling and touching as he takes us back and forth in time during Cailean’s voyage of self-discovery. The dialogue in a few places comes across as a bit stilted, and in at least one chapter, I got lost as to whether the events being described were past or present, but overall I found this to be a fascinating story of redemption and revenge.

The line between life and death becomes blurred in Rommel's deftly-written tale. As Cailean struggles with the realization that much of what has plagued her in her life has been of her own doing, the reader is pulled ever deeper into the whirlpool of her out-of-control life. I found myself rooting for her success, despite the way she's painted as a thoroughly unlikable person in the early part of the story.

The Lurking Man defies categorization – it in fact probably belongs to a genre all its on. It’s science fiction, fantasy, and with a bit of dialogue polishing, literary, all rolled into one.  This is not a book for the faint-hearted; it's gritty reality - even with some of the stilted dialogue - is likely to make many uncomfortable, but it shows life 'like it is.' Highly recommended reading.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

No Caption Required


Review: "Marked for Vengeance" by S. J. Pierce


I found Marked for Vengeance: The Alyx Rayer Chronicles difficult to read. Not, mind you, that it’s not an interesting story; I’d go so far as to call it an intriguing story; it’s just that there are certain things about it that makes it very difficult to hang in for the long slog.

The preface, which explains the author’s motivation for writing this novel, would have been better as an author’s end-note. Placed where it is, at the very beginning, it seems to foreshadow everything that will follow. And, of course, the following prologue seems to be of a piece; we’re allowed to witness the ‘birth’ of some strange creatures, or perhaps actually the ‘rebirth;’ “Waiting to be brought to life, their bodies felt more like prisons to their souls that shuddered in response to the darkness around them. Her mind reeled with images, distant, agonizing memories of the last two times she had endured this torture, and her frozen muscles itched for movement so she could flee.” Are we witnessing the appearance of some alien being, angels, perhaps? The author carefully, and sneakily, does not say.

In chapter one, we’re introduced to Alyx Rayer, and only because of the book’s subtitle and that pesky preface are we able to believe that she just might be one of the ‘strange’ beings, until it is revealed to us near the end of the chapter.

I think you’re getting the picture; this is a story of the ‘aliens among us,’ but one with a few twists over the standard ‘encounter’ tales. An interesting concept, that I mostly enjoyed reading, but for a few faults. First; the formatting of the e-Book was extremely distracting, with sudden spacings separating sentences, causing the eye to stumble while reading, and initially wondering if this was intentional or just an oversight. Then, there were the sudden shifts in point of view, from one character to another, from third person omniscient to third person limited. This is great in experimental fiction, but when you want readers to get to know and care about your characters, it’s a bit off-putting. Finally, the dialogue tends in many places to be a bit too wooden, as if the character was reading from a note pad rather than actually speaking, and there are too many unnecessary tags, such as ‘her hands balled angrily into fists,’ that don’t really add to the flow of the story in any significant way – rather, they detract from it.

Like I said, even though it was hard to read, I did enjoy Mark of Vengeance, even though I didn’t totally understand it. It shows signs of developing into a fascinating trilogy, or maybe even a series if the author takes note of the aforementioned weaknesses, and, either corrects them, or makes sure readers know they’re part of the story.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Fulfilling the Dream by Honoring the Dreamer


In three days, on January 21, the nation prepares for the inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President, for his second term. At the same time, we will pause throughout the country to honor a man whose efforts were instrumental in many ways in this historic inauguration. January 21 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a holiday marked every year on the third Monday in January since 1986, and since 2000, recognized in all 50 states.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a Baptist preacher. He followed his father’s profession, becoming a pastor in a church in the south, ministering to the needs of a then-segregated black community. The Montgomery bus boycott, sparked by Rosa Parks arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white male passenger, King became the leader of the national civil rights movement, and in 1957 helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements in moving the cause of civil rights forward in the United States, and honored around the world, he is best remembered for his historic “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, before an audience of 250,000 civil rights supporters at the close of the March on Washington. After the 1963 event, King turned his attention to a focus on poverty and the war in Vietnam, which he vehemently opposed.

In Memphis, Tennessee to support that city’s garbage workers in their strike for better wages and working conditions, King was slain by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968. His death touched off riots around the country in some of the worst racial violence the country has ever seen.

King’s words in Washington in 1963 are as appropriate today as they were then, given the economic and social problems plaguing the nation over 150 years after the end of the Civil War. We are still a nation of haves and have-nots, with millions going to bed at night with empty stomachs, without shelter, and deprived of the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ The promissory note written by the Founding Fathers when they drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is still due for many. As King said, “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir to.” We should take careful note of what he said after that, though. “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds . . . let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”

His dream, the American dream, remains largely a dream. To honor his legacy, it is up to us, each of us, to continue to work to make that dream a reality. Even though we might have to face the ‘difficulties of today and tomorrow,’ we should still cling to that dream, a dream that is ‘deeply rooted in the American dream.’

Review: "Kismetology" by Jaimie Admans


Jaimie Admans is, in her own words, a young English-sounding Welsh girl, who has written a great first novel, Kismetology. MacKenzie lives with Dan, her significant other, three houses down from her domineering divorced mother. Wanting to get out from under her mum’s oppressive thumb, Mac sets out to find her a man. I found myself alternating between mirth and sadness as I followed Mac’s madcap antics. This is a romance, a wish-I’d-not-come-of-age, mystical ménage of crazy characters, merry misadventure, and deep feelings, put together better, I think, than I’ve ever seen a first effort done.

Kudos to Ms. Admans for an excellent effort. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more and even better in the future.
Get "Grab the Brass Ring" today.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: "The Iron Bloom" by Billy Wong

Rose et amour....rosa y amor ....rose d'amour ...
Rose et amour....rosa y amor ....rose d'amour ..rosa de amor.. // Explore (Photo credit: photosylvia / silabox)

Iron Bloom by Billy Wong is an interesting story. It’s about Rose, something of a tomboy, struggling to make it in what is clearly a male-dominated world. The story opens with the reader being plunged right in the middle of action as Rose confronts a murderous stranger at the home of people for whom she works (or, at least that’s the impression one gets). Nearly killed, Rose m manages to slay the intruder, save the only child of the unfortunately slain parents, and make it home where she miraculously survives the terrible wound the marauder inflicted upon her.

So far, so good. But, this is just the beginning of Rose’s adventures. A tale of derring-do and coming of age that would be rated as outstanding but for its failure to follow the conventions of this type story. The author uses modern language for the most part, and it is frankly jarring. Breaking the rules of the genre works sometimes, but having dialogue that sounds like a teen at the mall coming from the lips of a girl who has just slain a sword-yielding murderer is a bridge too far.

Having said that, and the criticism is meant to be constructive, I found it an interesting story that has only that one flaw. Not a fatal flaw, but one hopes that if there’s a sequel, it will not be repeated.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: "The Phoenix Egg" by Richard A. Bamberg


Caitlin Maxwell is on the phone with her husband when he is involved in a highway accident. At first, totally distraught over the fact that he might be dead, she doesn’t make the connection between his accident and a subsequent attempt on her life in the expensive, high-security apartment where she lives. Thwarted by the apartment security officials, and viewed with skepticism by the police officer who comes to investigate her assault complaint, she strikes out on her own. When another attempt is made on her life, she turns to the enigmatic John Blalock for help.
Caitlin and Blalock quickly find themselves pursued by agents of the U.S. Government, Japanese industrial spies, and a French security official; all seeking something Caitlin has. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know what she has. Blalock has to use all his wits to keep them alive while they seek answers.
This is the way The Phoenix Egg starts; searing action from the first page; action that continues to climb page after page, reaching an explosive conclusion. Richard a. Bamberg has crafted a well thought out thriller, with action, suspense, and romance that devotees of the genre will appreciate. Formatting in the e-book format is a bit distracting, but, only mildly so, as are some of the long flashbacks, which, while being action-packed themselves, disrupt the flow of the current story a bit.
These two minor flaws are the only negative things I have to say about The Phoenix Egg, because it’s a must-read book that, the flaws notwithstanding, won’t disappoint.