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Imagine J.R.R. Tolkien merging The Silmarillion with The Lord of the Rings. The Silmarillion details the political, cultural, geographic and historical aspects of the fantasy world inhabited by hobbits, wizards, human beings, and elves. Whereas The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy tale about one hobbit’s prize of a ring that takes him on adventures all across Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings is a mesmerizing read; The Silmarillion demands diehard dedication to read till the end.
Michael Bellusci of The Humana Chronicles and The Dream Nation writes the political and philosophical backgrounds right into his fantasy tale around the early 1800’s. Unfortunately, Bellusci’s valiant attempt does not work for his novel. Bellusci tries to do too much, pulling in background information around characters, an ideal nation, the role of citizens and leaders, political structure and process. Tolkien reflected his background concepts around Middle Earth in his characters and storyline of The Lord of the Rings.
Just like Tolkien, Bellusci decries industrialization. But his thinking and opinions about our current industrial and technological problems take centre stage when one of his main characters, King Mathius, envisions the creation of an ideal nation state. I kept having to confirm that this story was set around 1812. Time and again, Bellusci uses modern terminology unbeknownst to this era, words like national stewardship. “One of his goals is to better integrate humans with nature and implement the practise of national stewardship.” This conceptual thinking is not reflective of any years around 1812 but of the 21st century.
The five main human characters in The Humana Chronicles and The Dream Nation mirror good and evil. Two male characters are identical twins with the “idealistic good” twin appointed heir to the throne, and the “pragmatic bad” twin as military general/warrior for the nation. The third man is the catalyst with amazing abilities of being a scientist, magician, architect, healer, inventor, and weapons manufacturer. For the two women, the chambermaid performs the evil, conniving role who uses her womanly ways to get what she wants, and the woman who runs a horse farm with her father becomes a poetess, love interest, and queen for the good king. None of the characters develop realism or depth where the reader truly cares and identifies with the characters’ struggles. When the scientist/magician receives a termination letter from the absent good king, he never consults with the queen or other non-existent court people, instead taking the word of the scheming chambermaid. This is a prime example of how isolated the characters are in this novel where the primary goal is to move the story forward to evolve the nation-state, the principal character.
Michael Bellusci has obviously spent enormous amounts of time and effort writing The Humana Chronicles and The Dream Nation. His concerns for the existing state of power and influence of nations overridden by technology, industrialization and all out greed carry greater weight than the niceties around a fictional story. By eliminating the fictional story, Bellusci could use his concepts to write a PhD thesis.
“Know you are not responsible for the failures or misery of your parents or of others.” Betty Franklin in Guts: Get Uncomfortable to Succeed believes individuals can get out of a difficult situation by pulling oneself up by one`s bootstraps, and with a little help from her book.
Our troubles often reveal weak areas in our life that we need to improve. Franklin tries to reach people with all sorts of problems so this is not the type of book which can be read from cover to cover. A self-assessment questionnaire in the second chapter will pinpoint which chapters you need to focus on. When reading chapters you are weak in, Franklin shares enlightening ideas to help explore your weakness along with tips and “motivational speak”. On the opposite end, by reading chapters in your strength areas, you will find the content full of obvious common sense and quite tedious.
Franklin researched writings separated into seven areas of Faith, Family, Fitness, Friends, Finance, Fun, and Final Goodbye which Franklin called “Death and Taxes”. Guts culminates into a portal for other self-help books that the author integrates and attributes well.
The author is obsessed with acronyms. I found it annoying overall and can truthfully say that not one acronym stuck. But outside of that, four of Franklin’s ideas that I can easily recount are to answer the phone with a smile; we do not have control over what pops into our heads, but we do have control over what stays there; the hardest things with adult children is to stand back and wait; and the state of worry is not about caring, it’s that you don’t trust the process.
The main disagreement I have with this book is in the parenting section. Franklin says, “To be effective in our role, we need to seek help from parenting courses or books on parenting.” Most of the people who write these parenting self-help books or parenting courses have their past experiences at parenting as the qualifying criteria. Parenting blogs and social media advice benefit from the same qualifying criteria. The best advice is to turn to the original source. Talk to any parents with grown kids, grandparents or extended family. First-time parents often bemoan the unwanted opinions, pouring in from everywhere, including strangers. If you like how a young teenager is turning out, or a person of any age, then go talk to his or her parents about what they did to raise a person like that. Some intergenerational discussion might be helpful. But even those parents who feel they have made very regrettable mistakes in childrearing will be able to say where they went wrong. Hindsight is often the best teacher.
The overriding principle in raising children is to always take the long-term view in what would be best for the child in the long-run. Every parent’s job is to work towards raising children who once they are adults will be in the best position possible to make good decisions and to be independent. That kind of thinking requires self-discipline and sacrifice on the part of the parents. Unfortunately, it is so much easier to take the short-term view in parenting and do what makes the parent’s life easier.
Integrating technology into good parenting appears to be more of a challenge for today’s parents, something not addressed in this book. It saddens me to see little ones sitting at a fast food restaurant with their parent(s) who are absorbed in their phones and ignoring their little ones. A perfect moment for family bonding, conversation and teaching but lost to the self-absorbed parents, a prime example of the dearth of long-term thinking in favour of personal short-term gains.
Guts is about challenging oneself to be a better person, learning how to forgive ourselves. That a person who consistently has a positive attitude always outperforms a negative thinker. Filled with loads of statements that a person could write on stickies and post all over the house. If you have kids at the cusp of adulthood, then they will find value in the last two chapters of this book. “Fun”, which should be called Attitude, and “Life is a Do-It-Yourself Project” are must reads. With that, I will insert a few stickies and hand the book off to a friend in need.
Most pregnant mothers fear the possibility of giving birth to a special needs baby. When the new-born baby shows all signs of normalcy, a huge weight is lifted from the new parents’ shoulders. In Finding Matthew by Donna Kirk, Donna Kirk’s breech birth went horribly wrong in 1970. Donna and her husband faced complicated and heart-rendering decisions over their first-born. Despite doctors’ advice, these first-time parents decided to fight for their child’s survival and right to existence.
The book strikes at the heart of parents’ dilemma whether to institutionalize a handicapped baby right from the beginning or to care for the baby at home. As Donna’s husband asked her once, “Why do you always feel guilty about everything?” That is the crux every mother has to face when a difficult dilemma forces an honest evaluation of needs and wants for the child, the mother, and the family. “The minute he walked out our door, many of the hassles and complications vanished along with him. That’s what hurt the most.”
Kirk left me wanting more information about Matthew as I too wanted to find Matthew. What kind of music did Matthew like? Did Matthew watch television? What shows did he like? How did his tastes in music and television change over the years? Did Marguerite or Beverly ever try flash cards to communicate? If he could sign for some things, couldn’t he sign other things? Did anyone ever try assisted computer programs to communicate? What did Marguerite talk to him about? How was he in church? Did he try to sing? What did he become enthused about in church?
If this book was a biography Matthew, the author should have included chapters from his father, his siblings, along with his other caregivers like Marguerite, his live-in mom for over 11 years, Beverley, Lisa, Bunmi, and Pastor Joel, his pastor for over 14 years. Many holes leaves the reader clamouring to find out more about Matthew.
Three questions troubled Donna which book clubs could explore for discussions:
1) What was going on with Matthew when he touched or “thunked” his head with his hand? The psychiatrist interpreted Matthew as hearing voices in his head. Donna, his mother didn’t think he was hearing voices; she always thought his actions indicated a headache. Could Matthew have been signaling that he had thoughts he wanted to share? What did his Marguerite think?
2) Matthew swallowed a variety of different objects over his lifetime which usually occurred after a period of restlessness and/or rage or extreme frustration. The doctors called this pica incidents or behaviours, common for people with developmental disabilities. Why did Matthew swallow? Was it a form of Matthew expressing his frustration and hopelessness? Could this be a similar behaviour to teenagers who engage in cutting? Inflicting physical pain as a sign of emotional pain and stress? Did Matthew’s pica behaviour damage the upper sphincter muscles at the top of his esophagus, that close off the windpipe, which in turn caused his later health problems?
3) What kind of mental illness did Matthew suffer from? Later in his life, Matthew expressed more anger mixed with anxiety. His doctor diagnosed him as having depression with severe anxiety, and later agitated depression. What is depression? It’s a feeling of hopeless over one’s current situation and for the future. Was Matthew bored with life, alternatively angry and frustrated? What if he had far more to say and just couldn’t express himself with the tools he had available?
With so many questions arising about Matthew’s life, the focus turns to whether this is a biography about the mother. Kirk tells of her thought processes, decisions, and experiences in helping her child into some form of independence within the maze of his mental disabilities, institutional rigidity, community out-reach, and the medical establishment. But here to, critical understanding is lost. It was a shock to learn mid-way through the book that Donna had been educated in early childhood education at a university , that her husband and her had built a house when they had three very young children, that the other two children were educated in private schools, that her mother who had supported her and Matthew so much had died 8 years before Matthew died. These are significant events in the life of a decision maker such as Donna Kirk, leaving readers with a glass only half-empty.
Finding Matthew focuses on Matthew’s pivots events from a developmentally and mentally disabled newborn, to a toddler, teenager, and adult. Donna Kirk pulls us through the painful moments as she strives to enable her son to become independent of family and finally institutional care. Along the way, she understands that her and the rest of her family’s well-being must also be considered. Kirk instinctively realizes that harbouring and silencing questions costs; instead she questions and challenges old school preconceived notions of loved ones with disabilities. Finding Matthew reveals Kirk and her husband as forerunners to more progressive care of the mentally handicapped from institutions into the communities.
I accepted this book, God, Are you Listening? for review because the synopsis submission and the back cover promised that “this is a non denominational spiritual self-help book. It is intended for people of all faiths, religions, and believe systems, as well as non-believers.” With its contradictory Christian title, I was intrigued by how the author would accomplish this difficult balancing act. It turns out the book is very Christian orientated with only minor glimpses of other religions. The prevalence of Christian lecturing may offend non-Christians.
The first five pages of the book in the first chapter “Unanswered Prayers” will lose a lot of non-Christian readers immediately with the heavy inundation of God. This could have been rewritten to be more inclusion of all religions, and belief system. Author Elizabeth Hutchinson pulls God into every aspect of her book. The author would be better off to withdraw any claims of being non-denominational.
The author leaps from practical examples to broad generalizations. Hutchinson points out how cleaning a house only comes with looking, taking action, and continuing to do so to removes chaos in the house, and within ourselves. Suddenly the author asks “Now you may ask, If it is so easy why isn’t everyone doing it and why are we living with war, famine, and family violence? And you know what? God asks the same question.” Then after these huge questions, Hutchinson goes back to how to clean, one room at a time. This transition from practical example to broad social questions, and back to the first practical example without answering the important broad social questions show poor continuity. A good editor would have caught many problems including the flawed thought flows, overuse of passive verbs, too many ‘ands’, and frequent word repetition.
Hutchinson has spent much of her life helping and teaching others through the social and victim services systems. Many of her teachings in this book revolve around what she has learned from other people’s experiences, books, and conferences. She uses these multi-faceted experiences including her own burnout to illustrate how to free oneself to find one’s full potential. She covers areas many people struggle with: mediation, forgiveness, fear, resentment, resistance, impatience.
Although her topics are vital in each person’s life, I found that much of what she details is basic common sense laden with Christian inferences. Written as revelations, these details would have evolved from inadequate behavioural patterns she observed in people she had assisted in her extensive career. The preponderance of common sense in this book will appeal to a very restricted audience. If only Hutchinson had written without the biblical and Christian references, her book would have been truly non-denominational and useful to the social services sector.
Rundog: Toll for Tomorrow, An Alternate History by J.O. Quantaman needs clarity of purpose. The main plot revolves around an ice maiden, rescued from the sex trade, who joins an espionage cooperative that cleans up syndicated crime in a futuristic world set of the 2070s. Quantaman strives to describe an alternate reality in the 2070s, proclaim the benefits of psignology, attempt an erotic novel, and write an espionage novel. Rundog suffers from multi-tasking.
If J.R.R. Tolkien had integrated as much detail of the Silmarillion universe into the Lord of the Rings as did Quantaman, Tolkien's trilogy would have dragged. Consider the futuristic world of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Collin's world of the individual starts where the reader only knows what the main character knows. As the character travels, the individual learns new things, a little bit a time. Tidbits of information tantalize the reader with never a broad picture of any sector. A writer's vision of his universe should influence the characters' words and actions but not overpower a reader. Quantaman burdened his fiction work with details of the alternate reality and occasional slots for his characters' adventures.
Quantaman's alternate reality developed from extensive research and reflection. When an author visualizes solutions to society's problems, any futuristic ideas have merit. Packing too much information into plots can destroy the reader's involvement and entertainment. In Rundog, one-time characters or spy coworkers describe different sectors with all-embracing specifics. Being force-fed lecture formats by contrived characters was excruciatingly painful. Convert the readers into the world slowly through characters, then write a comprehensive appendix on the alternate reality.
My six most detested words were Yawh, bulbs, blinks and mimes bobblehead, and foreign words. If Nyssa the main character was a well-trained high-classed sex slave for high-ranking officials, she wouldn't say "Yawh", even outside of that element. "Bulbs" as a word for breasts just doesn't work, why not turnips or beets, definitely not sexy, just very earthy. I do not need to know when a person "blinks". Instead of using "blinks", use other synonyms such as astonished, startled, taken aback, or shocked. "Mimes bobblehead" sounded unique at first but frequent usage made it annoying. The inundation and overuse of foreign words during the first part of the book, thankfully tapered off to a reasonable usage.
The main female character doesn't ring true. Nyssa is portrayed as an ice maiden to others while striving to find Mr. Right. Her ice maiden image was credible while looking for Mr. Right was not. After being in the sex trade suffering isolation and abuse, I don't think she is looking for Mr. Right even though Quantaman writes scenes to support this. Her overall actions, attitude and conduct do not convey this search.
The spy cooperative gives Nyssa a job in data entry. Instead of learning Nyssa thoughts, the reader is treated to superficialities of the routine job and workplace conversations. A rare woman would say, "they deserve better from her, but she needs stronger hands." But a man would say that about a woman. At one point Nyssa equates lesbian sex as "mellow, mild and dreamy" but "guys are the real prize; they're more challenging and more intriguing". A woman wouldn't say that, especially a woman who enjoys bisexuality; but a man would say that, fantasize that. Nyssa's poise and actions contradicts the writer. The author gives her thoughts that are not in character.
Nyssa's transition into loyalty for the group and desire to succeed at martial arts happen too fast. The story opens with Nyssa being brought into an isolated medical wing, recovering from something. Shortly after she feels trapped and tries to escape, she's working as a data entry clerk and eating in the cafeteria. Then she is allowed into a gymnasium where she sees some super-fit people working out. She has basically seen nothing and knows nothing of the spy operation except for sparse niceties. Suddenly she aims to be like the superspys or rundogs:
"knowing it's the right choice, … She idolizes the confidence and poise of the rundogs … She hopes she can find the same bravura and raise her status…
This commitment strikes discord against the character's traumatic state and any human's ability to quickly move into an existence of working to the higher good. Towards the end of the book, her coworkers request and test her loyalty, which challenges the writer's earlier statement of Nyssa's loyalty.
Dialogue between the women is not realistic. One minor female character Meg describes her marriage and death of her husband to Nyssa. To move past the pain of her loss, Meg recounts how she focused on the negative aspects of her husband. The whole description and process to ease pain sounds artificial and out-of-step with the grieving process. Nyssa's response to this woman spilling her gut is pathetic. "I can't imagine what you went thru." Then Meg launches into a "brief history" on how marriages are a sacred cow with cultural constructs that began with the caveman. Readers don't need to know this past which is common knowledge. The focus should be to illustrate the futuristic shift of male-female relationships. Collins in the Hunger Games highlights relationship commitments only when her main character is personally at that stage in her life. Quantaman throws in a marriage lecture when a minor character reveals a failed marriage in her past.
Woman-to-woman support demonstrated in Rundog is jarring. A woman named Kim is injured in a physical confrontation with a mentally-ill associate. Jan who knows Kim urges Nyssa who doesn't know Kim to console her. In a real-world situation Jan would be consoling her friend Kim. Perhaps this is an effort to show Nyssa learning empathy, but this scene displays lack of understanding of the female psyche.
Quantaman often gives generalizations then lets the characters verify later. Does the author not trust Nyssa to reveal her own traits and ambitions? The desire to succeed at martial arts and the drive to find Mr. Right appear forced, coming from outside of the character. Looking for Mr. Right seems to be a contrived method to lead readers through the alternate reality. Her adoration of a male super spy called Cook is never fully explained. Perhaps the book should have started with Cook's actual rescue of Nyssa in the undercover operation. Nyssa remains elusive and one-dimensional.
At the start of every chapter, Quantaman focuses on psignology. From what I could understand psigns break everything about a person into categories: hearing, seeing, breathing, moving, gravity, coordinating, warmth, balance, touch, taste, urgency, and smell. These categories are clumped into fire, water, air, and earth sectors. Then a person is to use all of this to live life. But I just could not "exercise my noodle" enough to make this analytical connection.
Peeling away the layers the most interesting plot is where someone has infiltrated a highly-secure warehouse compound. The author incorporates two points of view from the person responsible for that night's security to the person(s) infiltrating the warehouse. His male characters Kazuo and Shepp ring true. Their dialogue and actions match their character portrayals. Rundog by J.O. Quantaman is a preliminary draft. With so many extraneous particulars out of the way, Quantaman's next novel can focus on believable characters telling their own story.
Have you noticed that one interesting man at the Christmas party or social event, clean-cut, almost military, a body that suggests power and strength, a man who watches mostly and talks some. Quizzing a few colleagues, you discover he is a city cop. Intrigued, you venture over to him to ask him a few questions: what is our city like, what is the worst case he has seen, why does he do it, and why does sentencing seem so unequal between crimes? You have endless questions, not all which can be asked. So you ask that off-duty city cop a few. His responses are vague with perhaps a little tidbit for you to mull over. He clearly doesn't want to talk about his work, so feeling unsatisfied you move onto the next person.
That unsatisfied feeling can be satiated with The Wolf and the Sheepdog by John Smith, a pseudonym for a Canadian city cop. This brutally honest book thrusts you into the mindset of a Canadian city street cop, fighting the non-innocents in defence of the innocents while putting his life at risk. Paraphrasing Smith's words, it's time for the masses to open the door of hell and take a good long hard look at it.
Once you start reading The Wolf and the Sheepdog, you will understand why that off-duty city cop gives you such vague responses. In Christmas Party, the people at the party ask Smith questions. His answers are as you expect, but Smith tells you why. This book delivers a collection of true stories you always wanted to hear from a Canadian street cop. You will walk in his boots; your curiosity satisfied. More so, these stories will stay glued to you from the first time you ingest Smith's words.
There are weaknesses in the book, repetition with the wolf and the sheep dog theory, some spell check errors, and some weak transitions from the present into the past but some good transitions too. I can forgive these errors in exchange for these insightful stories into the streets' shadows.
In cities where health and social programs can no longer meet their needs, the mentally ill wander our streets. In The Insane, Smith stops a physical confrontation between a mentally ill person and bad guy at a transit platform. But when Smith assures the huge unkempt man that yes, he is the real police; Smith sees madness enter into the man's eyes who then attacks him. Smith is suddenly in a fight for his life.
Drug users move through our city streets. Some drugs give the users a high tolerance for pain. Street cops must manage the drug problem through band aid solutions in trouble spots. These Hands and Fighting Superman illustrate the difficulty of rationalizing with users. In Children of the Drugs, Smith meets a very young teenage girl who works the streets so her uncle and her can buy the drugs to supply their habits.
Smith's details of sight, sound, smell, feel, and taste will bring you close to the truth and the horrors. These details help us to see the people in the shadows. The fights Smith describe are not vague, there are very detailed, transporting you into the instant decision-making moments. But he also gives us the tools to avoid feeling our emotions through his own ability to avoid his emotions.
For most of the stories, I see a forceful cop, never seeming to be emotionally affected. But I also wanted to see the other side his humanness that he keeps locked away. Once Smith believes we understand what he has to deal with, he eventually relents in the last three stories. He told me things that made me cry and helped me understand why he keeps his emotions locked away. Jake, The Wolf Hunts the Lamb, and Paying for Your Sins are heartbreaking stories.
Our cities, drugs, crimes and technology dictate our need for forceful cops. As in any animal species, we need the top dogs. In our suburban houses, we may declare humans have evolved where fighting force with force is unnecessary. But then we are ignoring the shadows. There is no longer a social structure of rural communities for the masses of Canadian population. In the days of abundant small farms and vibrant small rural villages and towns, everyone got to know everyone else, and people fell into line, obeying the social rules. Cities are too big for the citizens to police each other. So the question occurs. Do we give top dog status to those who have time on their hands to develop into the top dog, like the drug and criminal elements? Or do we give support to our street cops to keep and maintain top dog status?
Police officers operate at the apex of a city's life cycle. Smith's short story collection covers a wide range of human problems. Through his stories, we learn that police see more of death and its associates than the wonders of birth and life. We can't ask them to change, to become less forceful. Smith and his fellow officers are the city's defenders. Not defending the city from the enemy outside the city's walls, but defending us from the enemies within, enemies hiding in Trojan Horses.
In The Wolf and the Sheepdog, John Smith will tell you the stories you always wanted to hear, stories that will haunt you. At the next social event, you may be the one sharing stories with the silent off-duty cop, commiserating with him, and giving him a thumbs-up for a difficult job done well.
Paula will review this book.
Paula will review this book.
Napoleon's Gambit by Eric Goldman will reel you into a fantasy of time travel. At first glance, it reads for a male audience. A high-level military man gives pony-tailed Joshua Rick $5 million dollars to build his dreamboat. Part of the fantasy starts with the technology used to make the boat fossil-free for one-year. Once the boat is built, the military admiral wants Rick to sail this boat around the world and undergo a secret project.
Some of the dialogue between Rick and the admiral who funds the project is stilted. Part of that awkwardness could be the dislike each man feels for the other, instead of the writing. When Rick nicknames the admiral Cassius, the reader knows the villain's identity.
I anticipated a arduous book about boats and sailing, but that all changed with the introductions of historical characters such as Napoloen, Napoleon's right-hand man Captain Jean Coignart, and sea-faring British Captain Lord Thomas Cochrane. Goldman makes these 1800's characters believable. The mystery of how Goldman would integrate these historical bites and bytes were compelling.
To be passionate about sailing, a sailor needs a boat. Captain Lord Thomas Cochrane thrills to his Impérieuse's and her crew's obedience to his commands; so too does Rick thrill to his computerized Bit-by-Bit, truly a marvelous boat, albeit slightly futuristic. The author's passion infuses his story and makes Napoleon's Gambit a page turner.
With a villain targeted, Goldman layers in a female historian, for further motivation. Once our modern man begins history lessons about honour and eating habits from the early 1800's in Britain and France, then lessons from a weapons expert, and more lessons from a martial arts expert, I was hooked as a female reader. Although the love scenes were not inspiring, Goldman's perspective illustrates the importance of the senses for the male, "the feel of her soft, moist lips, and trying to trap her perfume molecules in my nose forever."
Most time travelling stories move the person. Goldman takes time travelling to a new level by moving objects with the person, in this case, a self-sufficient hybrid boat, difficult to see on the water. Bringing high-tech into the past springs a new twist to the English and British historical warfare.
But does Goldman make the springboard into the past believable to the reader? The only access to the past occurs near the Fiji islands, using a time pulse combined with speed to jump. The closer a person is to this board with the time control machine, the more tonnage a person can jump with. When Rick lands in the past, only isolation on the endless sea greets him. Brought into this seemingly timeless environment, a jump into the past is believable. Did the jump really happen? We wait for the next ship on the horizon.
With knowledge of history past, does human life become more valuable as a time traveler? Rick discovers that interference with past events can have unforeseen consequences. Then the question becomes, what makes an individual life valuable? Is it the person, his character, his actions, his future? How to rectify one's mistakes?
At one point, Ses, the female character says "Modern people seem to have lost their moral compass." In response, Cochrane's ship doctor understands that to control the devil within, we must first recognize it. Goldman's fantasy run, Napoleon's Gambit, throws us into a storm of moral dilemma: Who is the devil? When does a crime become perfect?