Category Archives: Books

Down the Road, by Cameron Miller

I usually only read self-published books when the author is someone I know or someone I know points the book out to me. Cameron Miller’s Down the Road was pointed out to me and I decided to give it a chance.

Down the Road is a short horror novel about two boys making their way through the ghettos of some city. It reads as if the author is new to the craft. There were a lot of sentences that had more words than necessary. I saw some misused words. There were structural problems in places and at times I felt the pace was too fast.

But, if you can ignore the flawed writing and just pay attention to the story, you might see that Miller has promise. Storywise, I thought Down the Road was pretty good. I was especially impressed with Chapter Three. Miller detailed the fire at the inn and the reaction to it so convincingly that I thought he must have experienced a house fire himself.

The rest of the story was interesting and entertaining enough, and the ending wasn’t bad. With more editing, I think Down the Road could be a great book.

Suck & Blow, by John Popper

I’ve made it no secret how much I love Blues Traveler. Their music really speaks to me and I can relate to several of their songs. When I found out John Popper had a book out, I promptly added the title to my to-read list.

You know, I always thought I would like John Popper as a person. After reading Suck & Blow, I think that if Popper and I ever found ourselves in a conversation, we would agree on almost anything we discussed. It seems that Popper and I have a lot in common, socially and politically.

Suck & Blow is about Popper’s life. Growing up, discovering the harmonica, the creation of Blues Traveler and the road to success, and the ups and downs that come with the territory, his relationships and so on. In some ways, the book gives me hope.

The Mountains Win Again is one of my favorite songs. It was written Bobby Sheehan, the only Blues Traveler song he wrote entirely on his own. It’s about a girl he was in love with, but their relationship didn’t last.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog, by Kent Nerburn

I remember when I was in school, we were learning about the Bering Strait and how it was the land bridge that Indians traveled over to settle the continents of North and South America thousands of years ago. I remember expressing to my teacher that Europe has its own race of people, so does Asia and Africa. North and South America are huge continents, why wouldn’t they have their own race of people too? Why is it that the Natives of America had to have come from somewhere else?

It didn’t make sense to me. I think my teacher said something about how there are a lot of people who would agree with me on that.

The Bering Strait and the ridiculous notion that its how the Indians found their way to America is just one of the things Dan talks about in Neither Wolf Nor Dog.

Dan is an elderly Lakota man, almost eighty years old. He wants to write a book about the life he has known, but he feels he doesn’t have the means or the time to make it happen. So, he’s calls in Kent Nerburn to write the book for him.

The entire story is in Nerburn’s point-of-view. Nerburn records his own experiences and Dan’s long talks., as well as the accounts that Grover, another Lakota, inserts. There are accounts from other people Nerburn meets while working with Dan. The story takes us from the reservation Dan and Grover live on and goes to Wounded Knee.

The chapter on Wounded Knee really got to me. I always knew these things had happened, but I never before felt the depth of pain and outrage that Indians feel. Dan expressed that he wished he knew why it happened the way it did.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog is a very well-written book. Nerburn held true to the promise he made Dan. He did a good job.

A Fearless Heart, by Thupten Jinpa, PhD

My friend Kathy recommended this book. A Fearless Heart was written by Thupten Jinpa, a former monk and the current principal English translator for the Dalai Lama.

When I finished the book, my thoughts were in a jumble and I had to take some time before starting my review. I really appreciated how at the end Jinpa wrote, “It is my sincere hope that some of the reflections and suggestions offered in this book may help you and others like you….” That told me that Jinpa would understand if I’m struggling to come to terms with some of the  things he wrote about. That sentence made it clear that Jinpa is not a know-it-all claiming that his way is the only way. He is sincerely trying to help people like me to have happier lives.

It’s no secret that I don’t feel at peace much of the time. I think I do an all right job of being compassionate toward others, but I fail in that department often enough. I’m terrible at being compassionate toward myself. I’m often angry with myself. I call myself a number of awful things every day.

A Fearless Heart is about compassion, mostly. Compassion for others and compassion for yourself. Be more understanding and patient to others, even when their views are very different from your own, and be more accepting of yourself.

A lot of what Jinpa wrote made sense to me. I highlighted several passages and put in notes telling myself to “remember this”. I might look through the book from time to time and find those highlighted passages that made the most sense to me.

I admit that I’m a little overwhelmed and frustrated by this book. I would love to be a more compassionate person, to others and to myself. I agree that being more compassionate can make me a happier person. But I fear I’m already so far gone that there is no hope for me.

I’ll just have to do my best.

In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

My cousin Irene and I seem to have a common interest in World War II era history. Shortly after I posted my thoughts on William Russell’s Berlin Embassy, Irene recommended I check out Erik Larson‘s In the Garden of Beasts. I promptly added the title to my to-read list.

“In the Garden of Beasts” is set during William Dodd‘s time as ambassador in Nazi Germany. The Dodds went in a bit naïve, but in time they came to understand what Nazism meant for Germany and the rest of the world.

I can’t help wondering about the Jewish family that owned the house the Dodds were staying in. That Jewish family was eager to have Dodd there, because they felt Dodd’s presence kept them safe from the Nazis. I don’t think there was any note about whether that family survived or not.

“In the Garden of Beasts” has more information and details than “Berlin Embassy”. But “Berlin Embassy” was written by someone who was actually there and published shortly after he returned to the United States. While there’s not as much detail in Russell’s book as there is in Larson’s, I felt that Russell’s book confirms some of the things Larson wrote about.

Nazism needs to be stamped out whenever it shows its ugly head. Nazism is like cancer, it spreads until it’s caught and dealt with.

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

Well, Jim Butcher knows his stuff. Storm Front is a fun book. It’s also disturbing and hilarious in all the right ways.

Harry Dresden is a private detective and a wizard. His cases are usually petty. He takes on missing person cases and lost item cases, and the such. But sometimes the police consult him when a case they’re working on is so far out they can’t make sense of it. That’s how Harry finds himself involved in a mysterious murder case.

From Pawns to Kings, by Eugene Brown & Marco Price-Bey

I first heard of Eugene Brown when I saw the movie Life of a King, which stars Cuba Gooding Jr. I thought it was a powerful movie. I agree with Gooding, what Brown does is heroic.

Eugene Brown and his son Marco Price-Bey wrote From Pawns to Kings together. Some chapters were written by Eugene and some were written by Marco. We learn about Eugene’s childhood, his upbringing and how he turned to crime and drugs.

Marco’s followed in his father’s footsteps and they both spend a lot of time behind bars. But now they’re both free men and they’ve turned their lives around.

There’s a lot of wisdom in this book.

A Life In Parts, by Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston is best known for his role as Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. In his book, A Life In Parts, Cranston recounts his life from childhood to his time after Breaking Bad. We learn about his struggles with anxiety and his pain, and we learn about his work.

Although Cranston didn’t actually say so in these words, I felt that many times he was saying the same thing I’ve been saying: “Do the best you can, hope for the best and see what happens.” It’s been kind of a motto for me.

Cranston didn’t expect he would be a success. He didn’t know Breaking Bad would be the hit that it was. He just gave it his all and look what happened.

Another thing I came away with is that people at the top of the ladder, no matter how much experience they have, they are often wrong. Directors and networks, and so on. The people who sit at the long tables and make the big decisions. There were times they didn’t feel Cranston was right for the role or that his work sucked. But he got the part because someone would believe in him and fight for him.

Once in the role, Cranston would prove the higher-ups wrong. This was the case with Breaking Bad and it was the case with Malcolm in the Middle. Cranston showed those who didn’t believe in him that he was the best man for the role.

I apply that to writing, and pretty much anything else too. Some editors might think your work is terrible, but other editors might disagree with them. In the past, I would feel that if one editor didn’t like my work, the work was shit and no one was going to want it. I threw away a lot of stories that were probably fine. These days I keep my work on the market until it sells, because editors ain’t always right, just like directors, networks and producers ain’t always right. Not even doctors are always right.

The message I get from Cranston’s book is, if you want it, work for it and you just might get  it.

Don’t give up.

Berlin Embassy, by William Russell

The first edition of Berlin Embassy was published on November 30, 1940. At the time, World War II had been going on for over a year and would continue for another five years. The Holocaust had not yet begun, but it was getting underway. Adolf Hitler had been in power for six years and Nazi Germany was well-established.

William Russell was an American diplomat who lived in Berlin from 1937 until 1940. He shares his experiences and observations. Germany was a nation divided by those who followed Hitler and those who did not.  As a diplomat, Russell interacted with people who knew Hitler personally and their accounts make Hitler out to be a self-worshipping, egoistic monster.

Russell also interacted with many common people, members of the Nazi Party and the Jewish.

Remember, the book was first published in 1940. William Russell died in 2000. Berlin Embassy was not intended to reflect what’s happening in the United States today and yet it might as well have been. There’s the same attitudes, just substitute the Muslims for the Jews. Propaganda is everywhere. Donald Trump has the same personality traits that Adolf Hitler had.

Does this mean the United States will take the same path Nazi Germany did? Let’s hope not.

Siege, by Gustavo Bondoni

In the far future, what’s left of the human race is hiding beneath the surface of Crystallia. They have remained undetected by their enemies for seventy-five years. When an Uploader craft lands on the moon not far from Crystallia, old fears resurface and the colony prepares for war against the more advanced enemy.

Gustavo Bondoni‘s Siege is a fun book. The characters are believable and the story is well-developed. I can see a possible spinoff from the epilogue and I wonder if Bondoni will make it happen.