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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.

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“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.

I was looking at some of my reviews on Amazon the other day. Sure, the four-star and five-star reviews are nice to read, but some of the other reviews are frustrating. They make me want to scream because they are contradictory or just plain wrong.

Shallmar CoverSaving Shallmar probably gets the most undo criticism because it is coming from people who lived in Shallmar when they were children when the story took place or they heard things second hand. Because my story doesn’t agree with their memories, I’m wrong even though my information is all sourced. Some of it comes from people who were adults at the time so they have a different perspective then people who were children. I know because I interviewed people who grew up in Shallmar and they have plenty of gaps in their childhood memories. I also have contemporary sources for information that isn’t dulled or altered by time.

I am tempted to respond to some of these reviews when I read them, but I have learned from previous experience that most of these people when given the facts, simply find something else to rail on you about.

I’ve had a book get a bad review because someone thought the title was too close to the title of another book that I had never heard of or because a book didn’t have enough pictures. Worse yet, I had a three-star review from a reviewer whose actual review of the book was positive. These types of reviews just leave me shaking my head.

I can stand criticism. You don’t get to be a full-time writer without having gotten criticism and rejection, but what galls me is that some people feel the need to be mean or get personal about it. It’s like they want to get into an argument and they don’t even know me.

gaithersburg-book-festival-gaithersburg-mdI was lucky enough to have a festival to attend the weekend after my most-recent perusal or reviews. I had a lot of people come up to me and say that they had this book or that book of mine and had loved it. Many of them even bought another title, which certainly backed up what they were saying. It’s one of the reasons that I like selling books at festivals. I can talk with my readers and if they do have an issue, we discuss it calmly and politely.

Now if I could only get all these people to leave reviews on Amazon. That’s a drawback to selling at festivals. Because people didn’t buy the book from Amazon, they don’t think to leave a review there.

By the way, when I have come across a specific criticism, I check it out (even the ones from angry reviewers) and when needed, I make changes. Unfortunately, the reviews don’t reflect the change. That’s not the reviewer’s fault. They don’t know about the corrections. I could e-mail them about, but I’m afraid that could lead to the reviewer going and nitpicking things about my other books to see if he or she can get me to make more changes.

I like this quote from actress Octavia Spencer:

“You cannot live to please everyone else. You have to edify, educate and fulfill your own dreams and destiny, and hope that whatever your art is that you’re putting out there, if it’s received, great, I respect you for receiving it. If it’s not received, great, I respect you for not.”

 

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BeastlyBonesBeastly Bones is the second novel in the Jackaby series by William Ritter. I’ve heard the books described as a cross between Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and if you read them, you will see all those elements.

In this second book, paranormal investigator R. F. Jackaby and his assistant, Abigail Rook, find themselves at the site of unearthed dinosaur bones. Paleontology was Abigail’s father’s profession and an interest of her. Jackaby is uninterested until the site becomes connected to a series of unusual murders that Jackaby, Abigail, and Detective Charlie Barker set out to solve. Needless to say, there is much more going on at the dig site than first appears.

The book is still a fun adventure, but it lacked a little something that the first book had. Perhaps it is that Jackaby doesn’t seem quite so odd now in the second book or that this book seemed more grounded in reality than the first book.

I enjoyed the new character Hank, a master trapper. He reminds me somewhat of Hagrid from the Harry Potter novels. I hope he shows up in future stories.

I very much enjoyed the exploration of the dinosaur dig site and the rivalry between the two scientists. I recently read a book about the first discovery of dinosaur bones and there definitely was fighting between different scientific parties.

The book also sets up the next story and a character who could turn out to be Jackaby’s Moriarty or The Master.

Though it is considered a young adult novel, readers of any age who enjoy fantasy will enjoy Beastly Bones and want to read more.

to_the_far_blue_mountains_9780553276886I read all of Louis L’Amour’s novels when I was a teenager and loved them. Now that they are on Kindle, I’ve been picking them up here and there. I was reading them early enough that Bantam started marketing the Sackett books as a series and numbering them. I had some that were numbered and some that weren’t depending on when I bought the book.

I, like many other people, enjoyed the storied of a family that believed in the strength of family no matter how far apart you were. I remember one novel where one of the Sacketts was cornered and holding out against a large number of bad guys. His position was strong and he could hold them off, but he knew he couldn’t win the fight. Then other scenes in the book showed Sacketts all over the west as they heard a story about a many named Sackett in trouble. No matter their walk of life, they dropped what they were doing and set off to help their kin.

Most of the Sackett novels are set in the old west, but as the family gained popularity, L’Amour began to explore the family tree and why the Sacketts had such strong family ties.

Sackett’s Land and To the Far Blue Mountains tell the story of the first Sackett in America. Sackett’s Land brought Barnabas Sackett to America. To the Far Blue Mountains explored how Barnabas established himself.

To the Far Blue Mountains was not my favorite Sackett novel (that would Jubal Sackett and The Daybreakers), but it’s a necessary book for any L’Amour fan. The book has L’Amour’s great sense of detail and storytelling skill, but it seems unfinished.

Part of the reason is that two-thirds of the Sackett series are in the Old West while five books cover the family’s history before then. You don’t get as familiar with the characters as you do with the westerns.

L’Amour’s web site says that he had intended to write another seven or

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James Rada, Jr. and Louis L’Amour in Minneapolis, MN, in 1984

eight Sackett novels, including ones that covered the Sacketts in the Revolutionary War and Civil War. I would have loved to have read these books.

Read Sackett’s Land and To the Far Blue Mountains together. They are considered the first two books in the series. Then go on and read the others in the series. You’ll get a sense of the type of men and women it took to tame a wild land and thrive. They may not have been a wealthy family, but they were a strong family and exemplified the best in Americans.

 

imagesI stumbled on Jackaby at a book signing that I was doing in Winchester, Va. A placard described it as Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes. Being a fan of both Doctor Who and the Sherlock, I was intrigued. I thought my youngest son would enjoy it since he is even a bigger Doctor Who than I am. I bought him a copy since I keep trying to get him to read more when all he wants to do is play Five Nights at Freddy’s.

I still don’t think he has read the book, but I bought a ebook novella about R. F. Jackaby called The Map. I really enjoyed that story so I decided not to wait for my son to give me his opinion of the book. I decided to read it.

I loved it. It is definitely a cross between Doctor Who and Sherlock, and you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy it.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Abigail Rook, a young woman who comes to New Fiddleham in New England looking for work in 1892.

She meets R. F. Jackaby, a quirky individual to say the least. He is in need of an assistant. All of his previous assistants have quit on him, except the for the one that was turned into a duck. Yes, a duck.

Jackaby investigates the supernatural, unexplained and unusual. He understands the supernatural and can see mythical creatures that most others can’t. However, sometimes, he’s not so good about the details.

That’s where Abigail comes in. She catches the details at a crime scene. Together, they begin to work together to solve a series of murders that Jackaby believes is leading to something much larger. They are aided by a young detective named Charlie Cane, who has his own secret to hide.

The similarities to Sherlock Holmes are easy to spot. Detective and assistant, who tells the story. Victorian era setting, although this story is in America. Attention to details, although Abigail has this talent.

The Doctor Who similarity comes from Jackaby’s personality. As I read the book, I couldn’t help but picture Matt Smith’s performance as The Doctor. I could even picture Jackaby dressed as The Doctor did in the Christmas special episode “The Snowmen.” The Doctor also has clever assistants who are generally females. Plus, the supernatural monsters are more the style of Doctor Who.

Jackaby is a fun story filled with action and mystery in a very unusual, yet familiar world. I will say, guessing who the killer was, wasn’t that hard, though I had no idea what the killer was.

Besides this book and the short story, there is also a sequel that I haven’t read yet and a third book on the way so Jackaby is turning into a nice series that I will be following.

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