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Einsteins-Secret-Irving-Belateche.jpgEinstein seems to be a popular topic for books. I know that I have accumulated four in my collection without even trying. Some of the non-fiction stuff is even more fascinating than the fiction. I probably even have a couple that use Albert Einstein as a minor character. He was definitely an interesting person who had an impact on the world.

I just finished Einstein’s Secret by Irving Belateche. I had purchased it two years ago. That’s the problem with having a Kindle. As I buy new books faster than I can read them, the books I can’t get to get pushed down my “to read” pile.

That’s a disappointment with this book. I found it a fun time-travel story. It begins with Albert Einstein’s death in 1955 and a lost message that he wrote on his deathbed.

Jacob Morgan is a history professor who has been seeking to discover what that lost message was for most of professional career. This obsession has left his reputation in question and his teaching career on the rocks.

However, as he begins a new job at the University of Virginia. Then he gets a break in his hunt for the message that leads to him discovering time travel is possible. He accidentally travels back in time to the 1950s where he sets out to find Einstein’s secret.

Another person more familiar with time travel is hunting him, though, trying to erase any evidence of Einstein’s secret to time travel. This begins to make alterations to the timeline that can change Jacob’s present. If he can’t correct them, he and Einstein might not survive in the new time.

The book moved quickly and I enjoyed the story. It had some surprising twists, which is not uncommon for a time travel story.

My biggest complaint is that Belateche didn’t do more-thorough research. Some of the scenes are set in Cumberland, Md., and I can tell that he didn’t double-check what it was like there in the 1950s. Once I caught a couple of his mistakes with that, I found myself second-guessing some of the other details. This is too bad because it pulled me out of the story every time I wondered about a detail.

I was also a little disappointed in how the antagonist was dealt with. It was satisfying, but I expected more action with it.

Overall, I might give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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C&O CoverMy new book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Hidden History and Little-Known Stories Along the Potomac River, is out!

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the great national project that failed to live up the dream in the 19th century. It never reached its ultimate destination, which was not Cumberland, Maryland (where it wound up) or the Ohio River (as the name implies). The early vision of the canal planners was something far grander and longer, and it’s just one of the secrets of the C&O Canal.

In this new book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History Along the Potomac River, you can discover the stories of the canal, its people, politics, and connection to history.

If you’re wondering where the canal could have gone, one possibility was that it would have ended at Lake Erie to offer competition to the Erie Canal. You can discover an alternate starting point in the book.

Other “secrets” of the canal include:

  • Discovering the connection between the C&O Canal and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • Finding out how building the canal led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Discovering how the Johnstown Flood helped kill the canal.
  • Solving the mystery of two murders on the canal that never actually happened.

Secrets of the C&O Canal contains 67 black and white photographs and illustrations that help bring the stories to life. It is the third book that I’ve done in the “Secrets” series.

Take a look for yourself!

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51aThcRqsrL._SX332_BO1204203200_I became a big fan of the BBC series Poldark this year. I’m not quite sure why because British historical drama is not my typical viewing fare. However, I got caught up in the characters and their stories. I also loved the scenery. It reminds me of how the setting of Longmire was almost a character in the stories in that series.

I then discovered that not only had there been a 1970s BBC Poldark series, both series were based on books by Winston Graham written in the 1940s.

I read Ross Poldark, the first book in the series and enjoyed. Usually, I enjoy books more than their movie or TV adaptions, but I think I like the TV series a bit more in this case. That’s not to say I didn’t like the book, but I might only give it 4 stars, whereas, the TV series gets 5 stars.

Ross Poldark is a man who has returned home to Cornwall after the Revolutionary War. He is a changed man because of the war, and he returns to find his hometown changed. It is deep in a recession. His father has died, and the woman he loved is about to marry his cousin.

And so, Ross begins to build himself a new life. He tries to get over his feelings for Elizabeth, his former love, but it is hard when she is now family.

As he begins to try and restore his family estate, he realizes that he no longer believes in the boundaries that society has placed on his social class. He doesn’t feel comfortable with the genteel nor the working class.

He hires an abused 13-year-old girl named Demelza to help in the kitchen in his home. As she begins to work to become a good servant, she also finds her world expanding and she finds herself becoming a compassionate, strong-willed woman. The first book in the series takes place from 1873-1787, which allows Demelza to mature from 13 to 18 years old.

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Demelza and Ross Poldark from the BBC series.

 

Graham’s writing is beautiful and engaging. I did have to sound out some of the accents that he tries to duplicate, though.

Because of the four-year span, it seemed like the book was taking it’s time to move from scene to scene. Maybe I am just used to the TV series where months or even years passed between episodes and you only realized it because a baby in one episode is a toddler in the next.

If you are a fan of the TV series, I definitely recommend reading the books. You’ll recognize a lot of shared scenes between the two, and you’ll even get some bonus scenes that didn’t make it into the series.

Note that there are a couple of big differences between the TV series and the book. The biggest is that Demelza is only 13 when she first appears in the book. They never note her age in the TV series but she is definitely not 13. Also, George Warleggan is not the immediate enemy of Ross in the book. In fact, he barely even appears in Ross Poldark.

I enjoyed the book immensely and read through it quite quickly. I am now on the second book in the series and wondering when the fourth season of Poldark will be released on BBC.

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UntitledI’m a big fan of Longmire the TV series and Craig Johnson books. I actually started reading/watching them at the same time. As I prepared for the final season of the TV series to be released on Netflix, I decided to build up my excitement by reading the newest novel in the Longmire series, The Western Star.

I enjoyed it, but it was surprising for two reasons. 1) It is essentially a prequel book, telling a Walt Longmire story when he was a new deputy under Lucian Connelly. 2) The book essentially ends on a cliffhanger. Now, I’m always excited when a new Longmire novel is released, but having to wait a year for the next book in the series will be excruciating.

The story begins with Walt enjoying a beer with friends after a weapons certification at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. He is shown an old picture of a group of sheriffs and one deputy (Walt) standing in front of The Western Star steam locomotive.

This begins a series of flashbacks that tell a parallel story to what is happening in present day.

In 1972, Walt’s marriage is on the rocks and he gets caught up in a murder of a president of the Wyoming Sheriff’s Association. The sheriff believed that some of his fellow sheriffs might be going rogue and killing people they believed guilty of crimes. He enlists Walts help but is killed before things can go much further.

Meanwhile, in the present day, a convict who Walt arrested sometime in the past is trying to get a compassionate release from prison before cancer kills him. Walt is adamantly against this, but you only learn why gradually.

I knew the two stories had to connect at some point, but I think the book almost waited too long to do it. All was forgiven, though, because of some of the surprises Johnson packs into the end of the book.

I enjoyed getting to know Martha a bit more to see what type of woman could capture and hold Walt’s heart, but I wish this would have been paralleled more with his relationship with his undersheriff Vic Moretti.

The other thing that threw me off a bit was the jumps between stories. Sometimes there were multiple jumps in a chapter. I happened to be using the text-to-speech function on my Kindle to have the book read to me on a long trip to and from Ohio so the changes could disrupt the story for me until I realized what had happened.

The Longmire novels are great modern westerns and mysteries, and The Western Star is an illuminating addition to the series.

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James-Stewart-early-publicity-pictureI’m a big James Stewart fan from his naïve characters to his western gunfighters to his psychologically tortured characters. I’ve got most of his movies, his two TV series, and even his radio series.

I became a fan in college when I had to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for an American history class. I loved the movie and started watching others. My second movie was It’s a Wonderful Life. Needless to say, after those two movies I was hooked.

I’m not the only one either. James Stewart is a national icon who avoided much of the bad behavior that so many TV and movie stars fall into.

I was a little hesitant to read Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend by Michael Munn because the first review I saw of the book seemed to make it sound like it was a book out to tear down Stewart’s public image.

So I passed. However, it was on sale as a Kindle version, I decided to chance it. I’m glad that I did. While some of the elements of the first review are in the book, the reviewer must have focused on the negatives because it bore little semblance to what I read.

Munn was friend of Stewart and his wife, Gloria, from the 1970s on. He writes in an easy flowing style that was filled with lots of personal anecdotes. It also included interviews with many of Stewart’s friends and co-stars.

Much of the story I was familiar with; Stewart’s shyness, his love of comics, his friendship with Henry Fonda, his war service, and his patriotism. However, I still enjoyed reading it again because Munn brought in some fresh viewpoints from his experiences and other stars’ experiences. 220px-Brig._Gen._James_M._Stewart

Some of the new stuff I read about was that he supposedly had an explosive temper. It took a lot to anger him, but when he reached that point, he was apparently a volcano. Luckily, it didn’t happen often.

Stewart supposedly did undercover surveillance for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. This was the most-interesting new tidbit. As hard as it is to believe, it is also believable.

He also had some complex love affairs, particularly with Margaret Sullavan.

The book also talks about the roles that Stewart was considered for and ultimately didn’t do. It is interesting to imagine how those films might have looked had Stewart been the start. It is also interesting how many of Stewart’s films were considered failures when they were released but have ultimately come to be considered classics.

The one thing I didn’t like about the book was that Munn seems to want to paint racist. Although he can’t show anything outright that would make a person think Stewart was a racist, he tries to read behind comments and actions of Stewart to see something. This was also the aspect that the review I first read played up.

All in all, it was a great book. It left me with a more well-rounded opinion of Stewart while still leaving intact my opinion that he was also a great American and a wonderful person.

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downloadI like Robert McCammon’s books, although I wouldn’t call myself a fan. The exception if Boy’s Life. I’ve probably read this book four times now, and I rarely read a book more than once because I have so many of them in my “To Read” pile. There’s something magical about Boy’s Life, though.

When I read it the first time, I thought that it would be a horror novel as most of McCammon’s novels are. However, while there are some scary moments in the book, by and large, it is a coming-of-age story unlike any other.

The story centers around Cory Jay Mackenson who lives in the small Alabama town of Zephyr in the 1960’s. The books is essentially a series of vignettes about his life and the unusual happenings in the town. There’s bootleggers, water monsters unleashed by a flood, a dog that won’t die because it is too loved, and an ancient dinosaur in a carnival sideshow.

All of these stories are held loosely together with a mystery. Cory and his father see a car go off the road and into the town lake, which is said to be bottomless. Cory’s father dives into the lake to help and sees a naked corpse handcuffed to the steering wheel. It’s a sight that haunts him.

The story is beautifully written. If there is one thing wrong with it, it’s that I found the subplots vastly more interesting than what was supposed to be the main story.

Although my childhood was ten years later, I can still see elements of it in McCammon’s storytelling. He tells a beautiful story through the eyes of a young boy. It has the sense of wonder that children experience.

While To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful coming-of-age story that is accurate and believable, Boy’s Life captures the magic of a young boy’s life.

I remember building forts and fighting fake monsters and bad guys. I remember my friends and I riding bikes, racing go-karts, and exploring the woods behind where I lived. We had once place where we would play and pretend that it was another world.

When I read Boy’s Life, I think back on my childhood and think that if what I used to imagine had been real, it would have been a lot like Boy’s Life.

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coverPower Down was the first book by Ben Coes that I’ve read. I really liked it. The book reminds me of the books of David Baldacci and Vince Flynn. The book is about terrorists attacking the power infrastructure of the United States.

I was caught up with the scenes about life on an oil rig. I’m pretty sure I haven’t read a book with that setting before. Dewey Andreas, a former Delta officer, is the rig chief, so when some of his own men turn out to be terrorists, Dewey fights back and effectively.

As the FBI and other agencies try to stop attacks against major American sites, Dewey finds himself on the run from the terrorists who think he knows more than he does. As he tries to get to safety, his efforts are thwarted by a terrorist mole in the government.

Power Down has lots of action and it was a great thrill ride. My only disappointment was that the character of the energy CEO who was a former Navy seal, seemed to be a loose end. I was looking forward to him getting involved in chasing down the terrorists, but nothing seemed to come of that story line. I’m hoping that the storyline continues in book 2.

The situation gets successfully resolved, but not before there’s a body count that would make Rambo blush. The ending also seems to set up the next book, which is on my to-read list. It looks like Coes has written seven or eight books with Dewey as the main character, and I’m looking forward to reading them all.

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charlatan-9781400136070-lgI wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when I bought Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam, but the topic caught my attention. I have to say that I loved it. It was a narrative type of non-fiction that I like to read and Pope Brock can tell an intriguing story.

Of course, he also found a great subject to write about, which is half of the battle.

In the early 20th century, confidence man John Brinkley came up with his ultimate money-making scheme. He would use surgery and goat testicles to restore male virility. It makes most men cringe nowadays, but think about some of the odd things we still do to maintain our youth that involved surgery.

Brinkley also developed a sideline of selling potions and pills that turned out not to contain what they claimed to contain. This sort of thing was going on before Brinkley with snake oil salesmen and still continues today.

I found myself reading the book and thinking how could people fall for this, but then I thought about the modern equivalents and wondered how many times I’ve been taken in without knowing it.

Brinkley made a fortune off his quack theories and inspired a lot of copycat “doctors.” He also left behind dozens of dead and maimed people, all the while claiming success.

So, if Brinkley was the antagonist, the protagonist would be Morris Fishbein, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not sure about other readers, but I just didn’t like Fishbein. I actually found myself hoping that he would fail in his efforts to destroy Brinkley. On the other hand, I found myself cheering for Brinkley at times because he wouldn’t be stopped. He kept reinventing himself to work around the restrictions that were thrown at him. I admired that even though I hated what he was doing.

dr-_john_r-_brinkley

“Dr.” John Brinkley looking like a medical professional.

I’ve seen a few movies and read some books lately where I didn’t like either the protagonist or antagonist. Who do you root for then?

Besides his gross medical malpractice, Brinkley also had an impact on politics, radio, and country music.

One reason why Brinkley was successful with his scams was because he was a master marketer. His initial marketing efforts dealt with newspaper advertising and direct mail. He recognized the marketing potential of the new media of the day, radio, and made the most of it.

When the government started to crack down on how the airwaves were used, Brinkley moved south of the border and opened a radio station in Mexico that eventually broadcast more than a million watts. Not only was this more powerful than his Oklahoma radio station had been, it was more powerful than all of the U.S. radio stations combined.

Besides pitches for his products and surgeries, Brinkley also presented entertainment. Many of the performers he chose went on to become pioneers in country music.

When Fishbein started to have an impact on Brinkley’s goat gland empire, he used his radio popularity to move into politics and very nearly became elected governor of Oklahoma as a third-party candidate.

I found Charlatan to be a fascinating story. I kept guessing at what Brinkley would do next to outwit Fishbein and his other detractors.

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mail-order-mysteries-coverIf you grew up reading comic books, you probably saw ads for things like x-ray glasses or sea monkeys. If you are like me, you may have even ordered a couple items.

Mail-Order Mysteries looks at the products behind those seductive mail-order ads that graced the pages of my favorite superhero titles. Most of the time, I skipped over the ads because I wanted to see what Spider-Man or the X-Men would do next. On the third and fourth readings, though, I slowed down and scanned the ads.

Mail-Order Mysteries reprints many of those ads, and I am surprised at how many I still remember, especially since it has been more than 30 years since I’ve read a comic with ads in them. Demarais shows the ad and then breaks the copy into four sections: We Imagined, They Sent, Behind the Mystery, and Customer Satisfaction.20161115_082746

We Imagined is what kids probably thought that they were ordering. They Sent is the physical description with a few background details. Also, there is often a picture of the actual item. Behind the Mystery explains more about item, such as how it technically meets the description in the ad without meeting youthful expectations. Customer Satisfaction was a quippy remark about whether the item was worth it or not. For instance, on the page about stamped pennies, Customer Satisfaction reads “Senseless cents.”

The products are grouped by type in chapters. They are: Superpowers and Special Abilities, War Zone, House of Horrors, High Finance, Better Living Through Mail Order, Top Secret, Trickery, and Oddities. The book is also attractively laid out with lots of photos. Having both the ad and the product to compare is like a before and after shot.

Demarais has a large collection of these old mail-order items. Although these cost just a buck or two when I was a kid and were usually junk, nowadays, they often sell for many times their original cost on eBay.

20161115_082804There’s no story to this book. It’s a fun trip down Memory Lane and takes me back to my childhood. After reading it, I dug out my collection of Wacky Packages and California Raisins to enjoy once more. I guess I’m as big a nerd as Demarais is, but who cares? It’s nice to remember simpler times.

Customer Satisfaction: Childish delight.

Here are some other pages about Mail-Order Mysteries:

 

The_Sum_of_All_MenI originally read the fantasy novel, The Runelords, when it came out years ago. It caught my attention and I went on to become a fan of David Farland (aka Dave Wolverton). I’ve also gone on to read the other books in the series.

I recently downloaded the e-book for my Kindle and re-read it. I am happy to say that I still like it.

It starts out like a typical fantasy novel, but then you quickly discover a unique magic system where traits can be transferred from one person to another using rune brands made of blood metal. The traits are called endowments and the rich and knights use the runes to increase their strength, speed, sight, beauty, etc. and become runelords.

The catch with endowments is that the giver of the trait (a dedicate) loses it. So someone giving their sight will be left blind. The care of the dedicate is then the responsibility of the recipient of the trait. It’s a moral responsibility, but also the trait only last as long dedicate lives.

Prince Gaborn Orden is a runelord who is also starts to realize that he is being endowed with another type of magic. Earth magic. He has traveled to a foreign land to try and convince Princess Iome Sylvarresta to marry him.

However, he is caught up in political intrique and a power struggle at the kingdom is invaded and taken by Raj Ahten. Ahten says that he wants to protect mankind from invasion from the reavers, huge monstrous creatures. While his goal is admirable, his method is to take thousands of endowments by whatever means necessary. This had turned him into a force of nature.

Gaborn finds himself on the run, trying to avoid capture by Ahten and save Iome whose has been forced to become a dedicate to Ahten.

Meanwhile, King Orden, Gaborn’s father rushes to try and help his friend, King Sylvarresta. Facing an opponent like Ahten, who can use his endowments of voice to convince enemies to surrender without a fight, forces Orden to make some risky decisions.

What I liked about the book was the characters who were deep and complex. The good guys don’t always win and when sacrifices are made, you feel them deeply because Farland has created characters you can identify with.

There are eight books in the series so far, but the series takes a radical change midway through. It should have probably been called a different series. The second half of the series is good, but not nearly as good as the first four books.

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