Category Archives: Kindle books

Steps To Heaven by Wendy Cartmell is crime thriller novel a tad short on the thrills

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Sgt. Major Tom Crane is a British military cop with a big problem. Soldiers are turning up dead. Their throats are slit — and so are the jugulars of their wives and sons — the crime scenes are a horrid bloody mess.

The first case seems like a classic double murder suicide, maybe the result of a marriage gone bad, or perhaps a soldier suffering from PTSD. But Sgt. Crane smells a rat. When a second murder suicide turns up on another garrison, Crane becomes a human bloodhound, nose bent to a trail of clues that strangely point to a local church.

If this sounds like a terrific premise for a thrilling crime novel, well it is. Author WENDY CARTMELL has hatched a first rate plot and she does a credible job of laying it all out, holding it together and keeping us guessing to the end.

However, STEPS TO HEAVEN is not a great novel; it’s merely an average or perhaps a “just ok” offering to the crime fiction genre. There are several reasons why this novel fails to be all it could be.

Sgt. Crane’s methods are procedural, clerical and plodding. The majority of the action plays out far more like a bunch of bored cops sitting around for committee meetings to read reports and compare notes. They analyze computer data and comb through various records — and then they stay late to go over it all again.

Granted, this might be the way real police work is actually done, rather than the high-octane gun-play, car chases, knife fights and narrow escapes of movies or TV — but this is fiction and we don’t want paperwork and reports — we want our adrenaline to boil through every page.

Another significant drawback for me are characters that are flat. Everyone here is more or less a cliché — the prim, proper and a-bit-too-tightly wound Sgt. Kim Weston. Her well-starched uniform crackles as much as her obsessive efficiency.

Kim Weston is set off against Staff Sergeant Billy Williams — an easy going athletic type who feels more comfortable on a football field than in front of a computer. He’s cheerful, happy-go-lucky but sometimes does sloppy work — which draws the evil eye from the uptight Sgt. Williams.

But the most bland of all is Tina, the wife of our viewpoint character, Sgt. Major Crane.

Wendy Cartmell

The author makes a valiant effort to flesh out the character of Crane through scenes that show interaction with his wife when he’s off duty — but we get little traction there since Tina Crane is about as vibrant and interesting as a jar of mayonnaise.

Crane and his wife bicker tediously over her sloppy housekeeping when they aren’t mulling over having a baby — the discussion of which centers around projections of the family budget. Wow! They do everything but get out some spreadsheets to regale us action-hungry readers about how they might micromanage future income potentials which combine the pay of her boring job as bank teller vis-a-vis his military salary.

GAK! Poor Mrs. Crane! She might have to give up getting pedicure at the occasional spa outing, or sacrifice carefree jaunts with her gal pals if she has to stay home and wet nurse a freshly minted army brat!

It’s all pretty dull.

The author almost saves the day by providing some dramatics at the end — but the biggest story here is a tremendous case of missed literary opportunity, and let me explain:

For me, the final actions scenes are rendered problematic because of implausibility — and that implausibility centers around the fact that I don’t think the “Bad Guy” could have pulled off what he did in acting alone.

I’m trying hard to word this in a way without having to issue a spoiler alert by revealing too much about the ending — but when I say this is a titanic case of missed opportunity — I am talking about the idea that the “Bad Guy” guy should have had an accomplice — and that accomplice should have been Mrs. Morrison!

Let me repeat: If the author would have made Mrs. Morrison an accomplice in the horrible crimes played out in this narrative, it would have saved the day for me, and would have made schlepping through the rest of this novel much more worthwhile.

But, alas, it was not to be.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Time travel book by Richard Bullivant is an intriguing collection of stories, highly entertaining

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

I became a fan of author Richard Bullivant after I read his book ANTIQUES DON’T BOUNCE the story of a young man working his way up through the ranks of large, multifaceted British firm that specialized in the handling of antiques.

In that book he made an ordinary slice of life seem extraordinary. So I was curious to see how this writer would handle a topic that’s extraordinary to begin with– time travel. I was not disappointed.

There’s some intriguing stories here that I’m sure even those who already eagerly follow time travel have never heard about before. For example, there’s a story about a man from a small town in the American Midwest who is astonished when he is spontaneously transported back to ancient Alexandria.

Perhaps even more fascinating is the complex, true story of a Victorian-era conspiracy-like plot by a famous British architect and a brilliant inventor living on the edge of poverty. This unlikely duo teams up to place a series of “teleportation devices” throughout a number of locations in London — which may have ended up transporting a mysterious wealthy widow and her spinster daughters through time!

Yes, a couple of the stories presented here will strain the credulity of even the most open-minded New Ager, but there’s also plenty of “red meat” for the dyed-in-the-wool skeptic — such as the ambitious attempts of respected American physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett to build a real time machine based on the known scientific principles of quantum physics.

This book is called “More” True Time Travel Stories because it follows up a previous short book, TRUE TIME TRAVEL STORIES.

A fun and fascinating read from front to back. Find the book here: TIME TRAVEL

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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“Life Erupted” by Mary Stanik: The Tale of a Minnesota Woman Looking For Love While Eating Her Way Through an Electra Complex

Review by KEN KORCZAK

We don’t have to make any pretense that LIFE ERUPTED is anything more the a light romantic comedy with a central premise pulled straight out of a daytime soap opera. Author MARY STANIK concedes as much when she puts these words into the mouth of her character, Jenn Bergquist, near the end of the book:

“It is all too unreal. It’s like a soap opera, or some sappy movie … this is all too crazy.”

That’s pretty much sums it up. Life Erupted is a not just Chick Lit Lite, it’s Chick Lit Ultra-Lite.

Even the main character is borrowed right off the ol’ tube. Again, the author makes no bones about this, saying her heroine was inspired by Mary Richards of the MARY TYLER MOORE show. I have always thought that Mary Richards was a wafer-thin reincarnation of Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie in THAT GIRL. And now we see that the transmigration of the soul is possible because TV characters can be reborn onto the printed page.

Like Mary Richards, Jenn Berquist lives in Minneapolis and works in the media business. She she also sports the same hairstyle of that slightly earlier TV queen, Ann Marie. Both have that 1960s funky bouffant flip with blunt bangs held up by killer eyelashes.

Mary Stanik

Like Mary and Ann Marie, Jenn Bergquist is witty, spunky and bright, but as yet unlucky in love despite being a charming thirty-something hottie. Not too worry — you know she’s going to hook up with a handsome hunk sooner or later.

Thus, if you’re looking for a fluffy-feel-good fun read about a woman who wants to “have it all” and who’s going to “make it after all” — then buy the book and enjoy.

Okay, now let’s have a discussion:

The great American writer JOYCE CAROL OATES suggested that all American women are obsessed by food and all American men are obsessed by money. Life Erupted is Exhibit A for this notion

The actual main character of Life Erupted is not Jenn Bergquist — but food — and to an astonishing degree.

Food is lovingly described, food is dwelled upon, food is a central aspect of the most important scenes. Even that which is tangentially related to food looms large in the background of the narrative, such as restaurants, menus, styles of food, traditions of food, kitchens and eating utensils. (I’m not making this up: In one scene a woman actually “holds onto her fork” for emotional support).

What’s truly remarkable is that in the central “plot payoff” scene of the book — wherein the main character is receiving a stunning life-altering revelation — the event takes a back seat to a stack of pancakes dripping with maple syrup, and not just any maple syrup, but maple syrup imported from Canada.

That Girl

Further yet — while Jenn Berquist is wolfing down her mountain of flapjacks, her mind is already wandering off to a delicious contemplation of homemade muffins — and then she ponders further the idea of taking some muffins home for a future nosh.

The exciting trip to Iceland to chase erupting volcanoes recedes into the background as an examination of Icelandic cuisine ensues — the famous salted cod is discussed, as is other ocean fair, wines, juices, drinks, desserts and side dishes. Says Jenn Bergquist:

“I actually did eat a fair amount of fish. You were totally right, you have not eaten salmon or cod until you have eaten the Icelandic variety. But not so much with the vegetables, they are pretty expensive there and so we didn’t have many, save for a few $15 side salads.”

Fifteen bucks for a side salad! Certainly that would necessarily limit one to “a few.”

Now let’s leave food behind to discuss this books other major underlying them — the latent but raging Electra Complex of Jenn Bergquist.

You have probably heard about Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, but from Neo-Freudian psychology with get the Electra complex. It was proposed by the great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. An Electra Complex is a daughter’s psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father.

Mary Tyler Moore

The Electra Complex is also associated with a dwelling upon the defeat, displacement, death or pyscho-social death of the mother. In Life Erupted, in true Electra fashion, the author presents one mother as already dead and the “other mother” is slowly dying and then dutifully killed off before the tale ends.

At the same time, the only person who has a lot of exciting sex in this book is — you guessed it — Jenn’s aging father, the stoic and heavily repressed Olaf Bergquist.

In true Electra fashion, Jenn expends considerable psychic energy coming to grips with the burgeoning sex life of her father.

As for Jenn herself, she seems to have adopted that old maxim: If you can’t have sex, have chocolate — or pancakes, or lobster-stuffed ravioli, or salted cod, or muffins, or spicy pasta in marinara sauce, or angel food cake with blueberries, or Belgian chocolate dessert — or the “large slices of crusty, very tasty bread” — purchased for her by yet another father figure, her surrogate grandfather.

Electra

As for the woman — Caroline — who is providing sexual pleasure to Jenn’s father, she also dwells with powerful intensity on food even while she is angling for a night sex with Olaf during their first date at a restaurant.

Olaf Bergquist glumly looks across the table at the object of his sexual desire, the sizzling-sexy Caroline, only too observe that she:

“ … goes silent so as to scarf down a huge and steaming chocolate pudding cake …”

Then Olaf asks Caroline if she ever had a chance to meet Jenn’s dying mother, but he sees the dismal sight of Caroline:

“ … carefully scraping chocolate from her plate, looking genuinely unhappy that there was nothing left of her dessert … “

The only thing our plucky heroine Jenn gets, by the way, is a cold date in frigid Iceland with a gay man.

In light of all this, it would seem that the obsession with food throughout the narrative serves as a kind of displacement for the frustrated sexual desire of Jenn Bergquist — which might lead us to the conclusion that the seething, exploding volcanoes of Iceland serve as the ultimate metaphor of a desire for explosive, orgasmic sexual fulfillment — never realized, except when projected onto the father.

So, you know … well, this is a pretty interesting book when you think about it.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Timelock by R.G. Knighton is Devilishly Clever Fun: Well Written Campy Blood and Gore Horror At Its Best

Review by KEN KORCZAK

I was trying to think of the last time I had as much fun as I did while reading TIMELOCK by R.G. Knighton, and then it hit me: The year was 1987.

I was at the movies with a friend. The film we were seeing was EVIL DEAD II, Sam Raimi’s campy-but-ingenious blood and gore classic. Evil Dead II is outrageously goofy but devilishly clever. It became an instant laugh-and-shock-a-minute classic. I still consider it to be among my personal “best movies of all time.”

Devilishly clever, nutty, bloody, gory, funny and fun would well describe TIMELOCK, which is actually a set of two novels.

The first book involves a group of twenty-something college students attending a second-tier, but upper crust British university. They began to dabble in occult practices and stumble into a way to open a portal into another time and dimension. Trouble ensues when malevolent spirits leap through the portal and attach themselves to the students.

Each student is now “infected” with evil forces from the distant past. A variety of nutty hijinks ensue. What’s worse, one of the evil spirits is that of an extremely powerful witch with the wacky name of “Toomak.” She has the power to bring about he return of the Antichrist — Satan would be unchained resulting in the destruction of everything that is good, decent and holy forever.

R.G. Knighton

While the first novel takes place in the 1980s, the second novel shifts the action to the ancient Mideast at the time of Jesus. In the end, the events of the first novel and the second converge in a climatic ending pitting a fierce battle between the forces of Good and Evil.

What really makes this a first rate novel is the author’s superior ability to create interesting characters — they are ordinary human beings with all the normal strengths and weaknesses of people we find in the real world.

Each character’s motivations are shaped by their circumstances and background — which the author inserts into the narrative with marvelous finesse and ease.

R.G. Knighton is a rare writer — I believe he is a natural talent. He commands a razor-edged wit and a wonderful sense of sardonic irony. His ability to place ordinary people into extraordinary situations is what gives this book a breezy kind of power that doesn’t pretend to be anything but sheer entertainment.

The humor of Timelock is dripping with cynicism. Yes, this is dark humor, but pleasant; it’s like a premium dark chocolate with a tad of bitterness but ultimately sweet.

Timelock gets my highest recommendation and will easily make my Top 10 List of best books I’ve read in 2013.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer and has been successfully freelance writing for the past 25 years. He taught writing at the University of North Dakota. Ken in the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Pherick Morton: A Life and Beyond Begins With Great Promise But Quickly Devolves Into a Swamp of Preachy, Pretentious Irrelevancy

Review by KEN KORCZAK

About once a year among the more than 100 books I read per year there is always one that vividly stands out to receive “Ken’s Crash and Burn Award.” This is for books which start out with extreme promise, but then veer disastrously off course, never to recover.

In the case of PHERICK MORTON: A LIFE AND BEYOND, author PETER MESSMORE was cruising toward a rave review through the first third of the book, but then the narrative gets utterly lost, and the reader is confronted with one downright absurdity after another.

The author does a terrific job of creating unique, believable and nuanced characters who are instantly interesting. He embeds them in themes that promise to be rich in possibilities — the conflict of fundamentalist religious beliefs confronting the world of hard rational science devoid of spirit — in this case, super-advanced robotics.

To add even more flavor we have a background clash of a tough-as-nails international union boss striving to organize “the working class” set against the lofty world of corporate and scientific elites.

But then it all devolves into a miasma of soporific detail. The author attempts to leverage what is essentially a biography of a fictional character to drive the narrative, which is no substitute for an actual plot. There is an attempt to keep us interested by killing off a major character every 40 pages, or so, and the author adds a couple of soap-opera-like twists, but it all falls flat.

There is scene after scene that ends up having no bearing on the ultimately vague conclusion the author has in store.

For example, we get niggling and inexplicable diversions wherein the character obsesses about a marketing logo for his robotics company. There is a pointless detailing the kind of domestic cleaning robots he plans to build (you know, like the Roomba, which has already been around for more than 10 years, though this is the year 2030). Then there is the agonizing description of the fancy, pretentious house Pherick is building; the details of this clog the narrative like so much flotsam washed up to lay dead on the page.

Pherick Morton himself is a creepy character in many ways. For example, he is obsessed with genetic purity. There is a scene where he and his wife are consulting with a genetic specialist in their quest to birth a perfect child via a surrogate mother. It’s like something out of a ghoulish eugenics training manual.

It would be kind to describe Pherick as a morally ambiguous character. An unkind reviewer might peg him as a self-absorbed ego maniac who easily rationalizes his use of illicitly-gained wealth — as in when Pherick’s father supplies him with smuggled blood diamonds, some of which Pherick promptly fashions into a necklace to hang at the throat of his beloved wife. He also has one cut to serve as her engagement ring.

Blood diamonds are called so because they fund weapons procurement for brutal war lords in Africa. The results is the violent deaths of countless innocent people, including women and children. They are often obtained via child slave labor — since Pherick is supposed to be a genius, he should know this — he knows how his father obtained the booty — yet he chooses to use these diamonds as his ultimate symbol of love.

He also trades illicit diamonds to pay for his brother’s brain surgery — rather than paying medical bills the way the rest of us do — through hard work, our own resources, or with a legitimate appeal to society. But not Pherick. He rationalizes by promising to give an amount equal to his dirty gains to charity at some later time — you know, after all his own needs and material goals have been taken care of first.

Pherick’s conception of spirituality is fantastically bland.

Even though he receives visitations from no one less that Jesus himself while meditating in a cave in Israel, these visions do little to alter his ambitions to make gobs of money — he buys houses, cars and the sundry material creature comforts the “real Jesus” would have found anathema.

Toward the end of the book, Pherick has earned a half-billion dollars, enabling him to retire in luxurious ease. Thus he is able to focus on his spiritual quest. He endeavors to formulate an enlightened philosophy — but what we are eventually presented with is a warmed over interpretation of Gnosticism which anyone could glean from Wikipedia.

Pherick also establishes what is portrayed as a cutting-edge, new kind of religion free of dogma and hierarchical structure, which has nothing on the Unitarian Universalist model (and many others) that have already been around for centuries.

Most of the action is set in the future about 20 years hence, but the author has no feel for creating a world that feels any different from our own. Except for the occasional appearance of a smartphone, the action here could just as easily take place in the 1950s as the year 2030.

The final scene depicts Pherick in the afterlife, a realm depicted in a way that is amazingly mundane, clumsy and absurd. It’s ridiculous, including a part where Pherick meets his old dead professor. This man reports he has been having sit-down meetings with Yeshua. (While alive, the professor had always maintained “Yeshua” was the true “Jesus.”)

The professor tells Pherick lamely: “(Yeshua) has interacted with professors before — but not many.”

Say what? The great Yeshua is fussy about which guy with tenure and Ph.D he’ll talk to? Hmmmm. Doesn’t seem to be too much of an equal opportunity Savior of All Mankind. Maybe Yeshua favors the rabble from lower society, you know, like undergraduate English majors? I don’t know, but I digress.

There are many other problems with this book as well, not the least of which is the peculiar woody way dialogue is handled — the characters speak to each other like robots — but I think you all get the gist of my view by now.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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TAL: A Conversation with an Alien is a fictionalized scenario in which a man engages in a lucid discussion of what is known today about quantum theory

TAL Anonymous

TAL

Review by KEN KORCZAK

The author of TAL has opted for a bit of melodrama, perhaps to spice things up initially and pique the curiosity of readers. To this end the book is mysteriously published as “Anonymous” and it’s billed as a “conversation with an alien.” But what we have here is a straightforward and lucid conversation of quantum physics theory, presented in classic dialectic form.

Only at the end does the author identify this book as a work of “pure fiction.” The fictional element is extremely slight — it’s used only to set a stage for an average guy to encounter another individual of extreme intelligence. The two sit down for a conversation in which the alien relates his insights into the implications of the quantum mechanical universe.

“TAL” claims to be an alien being who was somehow stranded on our earth 100,000 years ago. He has spent his time observing the human species. He is eager to illuminate his friend about the details, meanings and implications of the quantum model.

He does a marvelous job. If you have read other books intended for a mainstream audience explaining quantum mechanics, this will be a worthy addition to your collection. It will enhance your understanding of an always slippery topic. If you’re like me, a person who has long been fascinated quantum models of the universe, this book will give you yet another way to approach concepts that are thorny and vexing.

That’s because much of what is implied by quantum mechanics is so challenging to the way we psychologically model our physical world. Despite all of our progress in physics, most of us are still grounded in a Newtonian world in terms of our daily view. We are comfortable with rather simple cause and effect, a linear notion of time, and common sense laws of motion, mass, location and dimension. Even though most people acknowledge relativity, uncertainty and the like, they still don’t “think like Einstein“; most people still “think like Newton.”

Many of us have read about the double slit experiment which shows the seeming dual nature of a particle. A particle appears to act like both a singular “hard” object as well as a “wave”. Even if we can grasp the implications of the double slit experiment intellectually, it still confounds us psychologically. This author gives us yet another look at the issue. It helps to periodically return to the double slit results and think about it from new angles.

The author also does a terrific job selling the MANY-WORLDS INTERPRETATION originally proposed by physicist Hugh Everett III back in the 1950s. Perhaps few other theories have produced so much resistance — and just plain downright loathing — as the idea that every time a human being makes a decision one way or another, a new universe is created to accommodate that decision.

One of the ways our friend TAL makes Many-Worlds easier to swallow is by couching it in terms of the infinite. By grasping the mega-beyond-enormity of what infinity truly is, we can at least “feel comfortable” that Many-Worlds has “room” to exist and expand without limit forever.

There’s lots more, too. For example, the author does a wonderful job of shedding light on the Schrödinger probability equations. I also really like the way we are invited to reexamine the way we think about dimensions of existence, and how we perceive our relationship with time.

Perhaps best of all is a clever thought experiment which shows vividly the limits of a reductionist approach to science in terms of explaining what we can or cannot experience. For example, even if you develop the perfect mathematical equation to capture the essence of a lobster dinner, and have the best semantic description of the meal based on the reviews of others — you’ll still never truly “know” what that lobster tastes like until you actually bite into it and experience it directly with your own consciousness.

So this is a delightful read which illuminates and explains. No matter how well you think you understand quantum theory, I suspect you will gain at least a few insights, and increase your level of comfort with the implications of quantum theory. TAL will help you push your understanding to a deeper level.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Sky Hunter by Chris Reher is space opera that breaks no molds but is expertly crafted and well written

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Hey if you are going to read space opera it might as well be really good space opera, and SKY HUNTER is some pretty darned good space opera.

It has all the elements you expect from the genre:

* Space ships, star fighters, alien planets, aliens, space stations, cool gadgets.

* Well-handled actions scenes.

* A crisp writing pace that moves smoothly through an expertly-crafted plot.

* Believable characters you will care about and whom you will cheer on.

* A deftly created background featuring planetary systems flung across the vast reaches of interstellar space.

I also give author CHRIS REHER vast credit for inserting a couple of plot twists I never expected. When you read as much space opera as I have over the past 40 years, that’s not easy to do. Furthermore, some of these turns make this book relevant to issues we are concerned about today. That adds immediacy and relevancy to the narrative.

One of the unexpected departures relates directly to a certain terrible situation which is an ongoing in our U.S. Military today (although the author is Canadian) – but I’ll say no more because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.

So Sky Hunter gets my top recommendation. I encourage all science fiction fans to jump on the entire series. It’s a well-written, professionally edited yarn more than worth your dime and time.

Now let’s have a discussion. Come on, folks, pull up a chair and let’s talk.

Sky Hunter is terrific space opera, but it breaks no molds. Even though it’s all put together well, the “parts” writer Chris Reher leverages are the standard “pre-packaged, off-the-shelf, one-size-fit-all” modules of science fiction.

What do I mean?

Well, there is almost no cutting-edge invention here. There is not a single prop in this book we haven’t seen before, and many times over. The main character, Nova Whiteside, is almost indistinguishable from, say, Kara Thrace (call-sign Starbuck) of Battlestar Galactica. Both are tough-as-nails female fighter pilots who grew up as army brats and are making a go of it in a testosterone-soaked man’s world.

The starfighting “Kites” that Whiteside flies are indistinguishable from the crafts used by Luke Skywalker or the crew of Battlestar Galactica, or any one of dozens of other books, movies or TV shows.

Chris Reher

There are space stations and “star gates” or interstellar “jump gates” that have been used over and over again in Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate and other venues. On the surface of a dusty desert-like planet folks get around in “skimmers.” (Sounds familiar, right?)

The background features a federation of planets, just like the federation of Star Trek. There are rebels fighting the intergalactic empires that be. The aliens are barely alien at all and when they are, they’re like those you already know. For example, Reher’s “Caspians” are tall, fur-covered people with big feet – again, sound familiar? About the only thing that seems to separate the Centaurians from Earth humans is that they have remarkable blue eyes.

I mean, so what I’m saying here: This is genre space opera and it is really, really couched safely within the field. It doesn’t boldly go where a lot of other science fictions writers have gone before.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with that!

This is the kind of science fiction I cut my teeth on when I was a teenager, and it lead me to a life-long love of the art. Later on the SF acolyte will discover works of amazing innovation and depth – such as a “Gateway” by Frederick Pohl or “Dune” by Frank Herbert or the 4-book-series “Planet of Adventure” by the mighty Jack Vance. (For my money the latter is the best space opera series of all time).

Sky Hunter continues a tradition of Top Gun space adventure that will bring new readers into the joys of the genre.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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The Secret of Metaphysical Science by Andrea Scarsi is genuine and accurate, but perhaps not a destined to be a classic in the field of transcendent literature

Review by KEN KORCZAK

The immediate challenge in reading a book on metaphysics is judging the authenticity of the information. That’s a difficult task, but there are certain clues and road maps that can help us out.

One of the best ways is to compare new books to those powerful works that have withstood the test of time. I’m thinking of spiritual classics such as “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda, “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind,” by Shunryu Suzuki, “The Awakening of Intelligence” by Jiddu Krishnamurti “The Spectrum of Consciousness,” by Ken Wilber and more recently, “How the World Can Be The Way It Is,” by Steve Hagen – to name just a few.

So how does THE SECRET OF METAPHYSICAL SCIENCE by DR. ANDREA SCARSI hold up in this esteemed company? Well, for me, it comes off as “transcendent literature lite.” While this is by no means a terrible book, it comes nowhere near the level of the masterful titles I list above.

I’m satisfied that Dr. Scarsi is an authentic individual and that his claims of numerous and spectacular experiences of enlightenment are genuine. But achieving “cosmic consciousness” does not automatically translate to “stellar author.”

This book reads more like a New Age instruction manual. It’s often bland and plodding. The consciousness-shattering event of achieving Ultimate Realization has been rendered mundane in these 90 pages.

Andrea Scarsi

But wait a minute – does the subject of attaining enlightenment necessarily have to be ponderous, intellectual, serious and weighed down with gravitas? No! Some of the best books on the topic are quirky and funny, beguiling and playful. Perhaps the best example is THE LAZY MAN’S GUIDE TO ENLIGHTENMENT by Thaddeus Golas. You can find it free online. This is a small document of power-packed pages so profound, all-encompassing and just so downright delightfully loopy – I often say it’s everything you need to know about reality and enlightenment in 80 pages. And it’s fun!

Even though The Secret of Metaphysical Science is also a short manuscript, Dr. Scarsi pads it in the end with brief reviews of some of his favorite books which cover a variety of related topics, such as Reiki, wisdom gleaned via extraterrestrial alien contact, and the typical gewgaw about “attracting wealth.” Very unfortunately, Dr. Scarsi endorses THE SOURCE FIELD INVESTIGATIONS by David Wilcock, a vastly inferior work featuring endless pages of the most muddled quantum claptrap on the market today.

Even so – I give The Secret of Metaphysical Science a mild endorsement because the information is thorough, complete and nominally accurate, if uneven across the length of document. For those less familiar with the topic or who are approaching it for the first time, this book is not a bad place to start in finding clues and guideposts for that Ultimate Journey.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

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“Prophets of the Ghost Ants” by Clark T. Carlton: An absorbing, exciting work of epic fantasy that soars to the highest level of the genre — and just pure fun!

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Readers who dare enter the realm of PROPHETS OF THE GHOST ANTS should be prepared to be carried off, as if by a giant swarm of locusts, to a world of epic fantasy that rivals Lord of the Rings and is on par with the likes of Dune or Watership Down.

First-time novelist CLARK T. CARLTON pulls off an amazing feat. He “out-Gaimans” Neil Gaiman, channels a bit of Jack Vance and pulls it all together with the technical finesse of Ben Bova.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants finds a perfect balance between science fiction and fantasy but should easily cross over as mainstream fiction to enthrall a general audience. It does that with vividly realized characters embroiled in a compelling plot, all immersed in a rich and vibrant world – a beautifully imagined, yet not-so-make-believe version of the insect world.

If the idea of plunging yourself for 400-plus pages into the creepy crawly world of bugs does not appeal to you, I say, take the ride into the hive anyway! It’s a land of agonizing beauty, aching pleasures and bold loves – combined with the most abject dungs, filthy smells and putrid slimes.

Danger and horrid multi-legged death lurks behind every leaf and twig, but joy and triumph await the pure of heart and the brave.

We all know that our real-life dominion of insects is like an alternate universe. The rules “down there” are so bizarre, the behaviors so weird and the guidelines for survival are so arcane that even our species, wielding the most powerful intellects on the planet, are today at best holding a only a stalemate for dominance of the planet.

But now — what if you could magically reduce the size of the humane race to insect scale? The “rule-set” of the survival game would completely change. All this sets up a fantastic premise for a fantasy novel – and in the hands of a gifted writer such as Mr. Carlton, the result is magical.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants also leverages our most central archetypical themes. The viewpoint character, Anand, is a Moses-Messiah-like figure – lowly born into the most abject and despised caste. But he is destined to rise through sheer force of unlimited will (and divine providence?) to become the most pivotal figure of his age.

Can Anand and his growing cadre of followers, captains and lieutenants overcome seemingly impossible odds to carve out a new kind of existence based on joy, hope and equality? Will they be crushed by the grinding cruelty of a deadly environment — or will they succumb to swarms of human foes grown as wicked as bloodthirsty insects?

Even if you can guess the ending you’ll eagerly keep turning pages to the finish – and then, believe me — you’ll be wishing for the quick release of a second book in what promises to be a trilogy. As for me, I’ll be relentlessly sawing my legs like a cricket chirping away for Hollywood to make the movie.


Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

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Fighting for An American Countryside is a short ebook examining the plight of small town America, focusing on Minnesota: It also is a multimedia platform with video

Review by KEN KORCZAK

I was delighted to see a free Kindle book offered by Minnesota Public Radio News. As a resident of our far-flung rural northlands, the subject matter promised to be one of great interest for me – the plight of rural and small-town America.

I was not disappointed.

Written by MPR reporter JENNIFER VOGEL, this short book is perhaps more a very long, in-depth news piece than an actual “book” – but it is also multimedia vehicle because it embeds a series of videos throughout to support the text.

Alas, I am still slumming with my old first generation Kindle, so my device does not support watching the videos. Thus, I did not get the full impact of the information presented; so I warn other readers who are still in the “Kindle Stone Age” with me, unless you have the proper Kindle Fire or other device, you won’t be able to view the many video spots offered throughout.

I also navigated over to the MPR GROUND LEVEL web site to see if I might see the videos there, but could not find them – although I did not spend a lot of time searching.

(And one more mild warning to the general audience: The title is “FIGHTING FOR AN AMERICAN COUNTRYSIDE” – but it would have been more proper to call it the “MINNESOTA” countryside because the focus is almost exclusively here on the North Star State).

Anyway – In about 90 Kindle pages, Vogel skillfully provides a sweeping overview of the challenges facing rural Minnesota, and its small towns. She does a masterful job of highlighting an array of issues and challenges – shrinking and aging populations, dwindling tax bases, loss of schools and businesses, the flight of young people to big cities, rural health care challenges and even transportation and Internet availability issues.

She also zeroes in on solutions, and does so with some marvelous individual case study profiles. She introduces us to real people in small towns who are doing incredibly innovative things to breathe life back into their communities – from folks establishing cultural and art centers, to sustainable farming start-ups, renewable energy projects and various other innovative business models.

Author, Jennifer Vogel

Vogel finds a perfect balance between presenting the dire situations and enormous problems of a changing world to outlining a possible road map that might direct us to a brighter future.

So this is a terrific piece of work that I think will be inspirational especially to folks like me living in small towns — although I really hope folks in Urban America read it closely as well.

One last thing: I can’t think of a better person to be judging this work than myself.

I have worked as a newspaper reporter in every part of the state — in the far southeast corner at the Winona Daily News, the far northwest corner at the Hallock Enterprise, in the west at the Fergus Falls Daily Journal and right in the center of Minnesota at the Pequot Lakes Echo.

Take it from an aging burned out newspaper guy who has covered Small Town Minnesota on the ground and in-depth for years – Jennifer Vogel hits the mark with this terrific ebook. (I only wish I could see the videos).

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, and served two years as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer. He taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years and is former communications coordinator for Minnesota’s Board of Water and Soil Resources. Ken is the author of:MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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William Hazelgrove hits a home run with his latest novel, The Pitcher

Review by KEN KORCZAK

The last book I read by William Hazelgrove was ROCKET MAN — and one does not have to be a rocket scientist to come to a quick conclusion about his latest novel, THE PITCHER.

This is a straight-up feel good novel designed to milk your emotions and tug at your heart strings. It’s a big fat fastball tossed right down the heart of home plate – and most readers will be taking all the way, and glad they did.

At the end of the novel, you may feel like you hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs in the Seventh Game of the World Series. MR. HAZELGROVE is a literary engineer who knows how to manufacture a resounding conclusion you will feel in the gut.

So — The Pitcher is a sports novel perhaps directed primarily at young teenage males, but it’s meaty enough for adults to enjoy as well.

The story revolves around an unlikely triad – a poor Mexican-American boy growing up in south Florida with an illegal immigrant mother who is divorced, unemployed, riddled with deadly health problems but with no insurance to pay for treatment.

The third leg of the stool is a Major League Baseball pitcher who is long past his day glory days. Years ago he reached the summit of the baseball Nirvana – winning the World Series. Now he’s a pathetic drunk running out the time clock of his life as a booze-soaked TV zombie, hazed with tobacco smoke and drooling spittin’ chaw.

Young Ricky Hernandez, age 14, has nothing going for him; he’s poor, edging toward homelessness and academically adrift. He‘s among the brown-skinned ethnic American underclass. He has a violent absentee father who only who only shows up occasionally to slap around his ex-wife and kid, or steal money. On top of that, Ricky has a learning disability and yes – he’s unfocused and lazy.

But wait, Ricky does have a gift – a rocket for an arm. He’s a natural; that is, he would be, if he could only get his fuzzy mind together, get some discipline, develop a work ethic and burnish his golden arm into the shining ticket it could be to the good life. It just so happens that the guy living across the street in self-imposed alcoholic exile is a slowly rotting baseball god — but can Ricky reawaken the Old Deity to get the help he needs?

William Hazelgrove

Needless to say, it all comes together for a wonderful Frank Capra-esque conclusion – and so now that 90% of you have dropped out of the review by this time and are trotting over to the nearest bookstore or Amazon to get a copy – it’s time for me to push “Ordinary Book Reviewer Ken” aside and unchain from the basement my evil twin brother, “Cynical Jaded Pedantic Book Reviewer Ken.”

Look:

William Hazelgrove is one of the most interesting writer’s in America today; some critics say he’s resuscitating great American literature, and I agree. In addition to reading Rocket Man, I have also occasionally browsed his web site, THE VIEW FROM HEMINGWAY’S ATTIC. He’s obviously a thoughtful man of insight whose views I am entirely in sync with.

But for the sake of doing my (nonpaying) job as a book reviewer, I must add these observations about vexing aspects of The Pitcher which nettled me along the way:

Message:

Many frustrated social critics and reformers working in our inner cities say that young people of color, especially blacks, have been oversold on the fantasy that the best way off the Mean Streets of America is success in sports. Only a tiny – very tiny – fraction of any ethnic minority ever make the big leagues, yet like people playing the lottery, millions of young men of color all believe they at least have a shot at sports fame and riches. They don’t … but the result is they end up ignoring other more constructive life pursuits for a near-impossible dream. This book leverages that same fantasy. I highly recommend an essay by Lee Jones, “Hoop Dreams, Hoop Realities,” here: HOOP DREAMS

On the other hand, some might reasonably argue this is a story about a boy who is just trying to make the high school team and prove something to himself.

• A technical Point:

Years ago I had a chance to sit down with one of America’s most successful writers, Ben Bova. I asked him to give me his best writing tips and he said, “Make sure your characters always get out of their own jams.”

He said that when the character is always getting saved by the cavalry thundering over the hill, or by a white knight that swoops in to save the day it robs the story of punch.

Bova said you should make your characters solve their own problems, get themselves out of their own scrapes, even if you, as writer, have to “practically kill them” in the process. Don’t let someone or something else magically swoop in and provide salvation. Bova’s advice might be applied to several scenes of the The Pitcher, and I’ll say no more because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.

• Derivative Themes: The Pitcher is basically “The Karate Kid” as baseball. The student wears mitt and hat rather than a dogi and belt; the “master” is burned out drunk rather than a humble Zen handyman. Hazelgrove even seems to give a preemtpive nod to the movie in this passage:

“I breathe heavily and I really want to learn how to pitch. I feel like that boy in the movie Karate Kid where the guy is teaching the boy how to wax his car you know, wax on, wax off.”

• Predicable outcomes:

While Hazelgrove is a master of creating tension and getting the reader to root eagerly for his characters, no one will be surprised by the ending, even if they are delighted.

• Enough saccharine to give you diabetes

Many years ago in the blissful days before the Internet I sold my second article to a national magazine – it was a story about my cat. Cat Fancy magazine bought it, and when it came out, my older brother read it and said in a tone laced with contempt: “Boy you really laid on the sappy schmaltz pretty thick.”

God! Did that ever hurt my feelings! But it was true; my article was emotional and sappy … but … on the other hand, what’s wrong with lathering on the sticky sentiment?

I still don’t know the answer – some might say too much sentimentality is gratuitous – or maybe going for the “cheap score.” Well, I only bring it up here because it’s my job to inform my readers about what to expect. Especially in the denouement, the tenor of The Pitcher is far more “Harlequin Romance” than “gritty inner-city drama about a tough Mexican-American kid.” It’s a Hollywood Ending that oozes smarm.

I have a few other quibbles (in fact, several) but I have already gone on way too long – no matter what I say or think, this is a compelling read that even the most cynical among us can enjoy, and even if that means we must keep our cranky alter-egos shackled in a dark basement corner.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Exploration of the NDE by a maverick researcher: PMH Atwater’s “Near Death Experiences” provides insights that others have missed

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Think about this; The majority of top books about near death experiences are not written by fringy New Agers, but rather accomplished medical doctors or highly respected mainstream academicians.

Take that, skeptics!

Raymond Moody M.D. blew the doors open on the NDE issue with his monumental book Life After Life which came out in 1975. Professor and psychologist Kenneth Ring scored in 1980 with Life at Death. Of course, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross M.D. became practically the patron saint of the NDE movement, even though her ground-breaking 1969 book On Death and Dying never dealt with NDEs, per se. In fact, Kübler-Ross wanted to include this kind of information in her book, but her peers urged her not to, saying it would destroy the credibility of her book.

And they keep coming – the latest mega-best-selling NDE book is by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon of fine reputation, credentials and pedigree. His book PROOF OF HEAVEN published in 2012 was on the New York Times best seller list for four weeks.

But now enter PMH ATWATER: She is an Idaho woman who began her career as a housewife, secretary and prize-winning county fair cook. But early on she began writing copy for the Idaho Department of Commerce and Development and then started contributing to a regional publication, Sunset magazine. In 1976 at age 39 she found herself suddenly a divorced mother of three – but the next year is when her life was shattered and changed forever.

In 1977 Atwater suffered a miscarriage which resulted in massive internal hemorrhaging. She experienced clinical death and a brief NDE. Two days later a blood clot brought her to the brink of death again, and another much more involved NDE ensued. Then about three months later a possible heart attack or stroke sent her beyond the veil one more time.This time she experienced an NDE of epic proportions.

As Atwater likes to say: “I died three times in 1977.

She reports many of the standard features of the NDE – a journey to a heavenly realm, meeting deceased relatives, even a conversation with none other than Jesus. (Although this is not a Christian-oriented book). She also experienced the overwhelming cosmic and universal love that composes the very fabric of all reality.

These experiences were so profound it launched her on a lifetime investigation of the NDE. Even though Raymond Moody’s book had been on the shelves for a couple of years by that time, Atwater claims to have known nothing about Moody’s work or any other NDE work that had been going on at the time.

PMH Atwater

She embarked on her own research largely uninfluenced by others. Her methods were not scientific. Rather, she employed what she called “police investigation techniques.” Her father, a professional police officer, thoroughly schooled her in the investigative methodology of cops as she was growing up and frequently hanging around the police station.

To this end, Atwater interviewed (interrogated?) more than 3,000 people who claimed to have experienced their own NDEs, and so this book, her 10th on the subject, describes her theories and conclusions about NDEs.

I have taken some pains to point out that Atwater is different from others in NDE research because it suggests her work offers a fresh look at NDEs. We might consider Atwater something of a maverick within the field. This is interesting for two reasons:

1. Unlike most others in the NDE field, she is an “experiencer” herself, and thus is coming at the subject from the inside, so to speak, rather than as an outside objective observer.

2. She is not shackled by the “group think” or materialistic bias I think we can fairly attribute to the scientific community.

Of course, not being bothered by the scientific method is both a benefit and a drawback. Science has been successful because the scientific method works and brings results. (What would you rather have when the chips are really down; hands-on faith healing or a shot of penicillin?)

On the other hand, the exploration of the NDE might be one of those areas that simply isn’t accessible to the scientific method; at the very least, applying a rational-materialistic overlay to the NDE may be akin to fixing your car’s transmission with a roll of duct tape.

To this end, Atwater scores a couple of major body blows against scientific skeptics of the NDE, including:

• The universal acceptance of the “tunnel phenomenon.” Atwater points out that perhaps less than 10% of all NDErs report traveling through a tunnel on their way to the “other side.” Yet, the skeptics apply this tunnel experience universally to the NDE phenomenon. They say the “tunnel” can be explained by the way brain cells shut down as their oxygen supply is depleted. But as Atwater found, most people don’t experience the tunnel – how then are they still experiencing full-blown NDEs?

• The skeptic’s explanation for NDE relies heavily on the idea that an NDE is extremely brief, and that people don’t truly die during their experience, but rather, are thrust into a deep state of unconsciousness with loss of brain function. However, Atwater points out that some people who “return from the dead” do so not after a minute or two – but sometimes after several days. There are cases of people waking up on slabs while in a morgue cooler. They displayed no vital signs or brain activity for days at a time, yet they return to normal functioning.

• Severe oxygen deprivation does not always result in brain damage. Many people have been resuscitated well beyond the point where damage to the brain can be expected – yet they return without a hint of brain damage. Atwater contents the brain-oxygen connection is not well understood and is often misinterpreted by medical science.

• Scientists are coming at the issue with the assumption that all knowledge and experience is generated from within the brain – while there is good evidence from a variety of fields to suggest that knowledge and information may originate outside the brain, and the brain rather works like a radio receiver and organizer of knowledge that is “out there.”

And there’s more – including Atwater’s extremely excellent point that skeptics are failing to consider all the evidence – especially in documenting the long-term after effects of the NDE. That includes the deep personality changes that are displayed over a lifetime. Typical of science, it tends to focus in on and look too narrowly at certain factors, points of data and observed phenomenon. The method is radically reductionist– and this causes skeptics to simply disregard vast sums of data that are relevant to the overall phenomenon.

Unfortunately, Atwater in the later chapters veers off wildly into Fruitloop-O-Topia, making larger observations that, from my point of view, border on the bizarre.

For example, Atwater contends that millions of people experiencing NDEs is actually a form of consciousness evolution and is responsible for a new breed of advanced, highly intelligent children (born since 1982) emerging into our society with superior abilities. That’s complete and unsupportable nonsense.

But she makes other bizarre claims as well – such as suggesting that the downfall of Maoist China was triggered by Tangshan earthquake in 1976 which killed more than 242,000 people. Atwater contends that potentially thousands of people who survived the quake experienced NDEs and thus fueled with their expanded consciousness the transformation of China. Well, if that’s true, then Atwater must also explain why China today is veering toward large-scale environmental collapse as it pursues an aggressive, militaristic, paranoid and virulent form of hyper-capitalism that is rapidly polluting our beautiful green earth — and on such a massive scale that it may push the entire planet to the brink of a black, gritty, dystopia.

There are other 100% inane observations as well –such as saying that Pluto has suddenly changed its color and that the other planets are also brightening – say what? – and even if this is true, how is this relevant to the NDE?

It’s not. It’s just nutty.

The good and the fascinating of NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE: THE REST OF THE STORY far outweigh the flights of fancy and the David Wilcock-like lunacy that comes forth in the final chapters.

Even so, I say you buy it and read it. It’s a significant and worthy contribution to the NDE field of literature.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf by David Madsen is raunchy, yet beguiling; compelling, yet revolting

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Reading MEMOIRS OF A GNOSTIC DWARF made me think of “The Uncle Charles Principle.” This is when an author slips out of his omniscient view as he writes, and instead adopts the view of the character itself.

For example, if the author creates a character who is uneducated, the author might use poor grammar when writing about the character, and not just in the character’s dialog, but even while describing what the character is doing.

The Uncle Charles Principle is considered an invention of James Joyce who used the technique for a character named Uncle Charles in his 1916 book, “Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man.”

Other authors, most notably Cormac McCarthy, is said to be a master (and perhaps an over-user) of the Uncle Charles Principle.

But did DAVID MADSEN employ the Uncle Charles Principle in his rendering of this novel? Was he choosing to embody his character Peppe, the gnarled dwarf, while abandoning his own omniscient view as he wrote this fictional memoir?

I say yes because this would explain a lot, especially this book’s naive notion of Gnosticism. The Gnostic creed is presented here as a simplistic dualism – the idea that everything in the physical, material world is created by Satan – with this set against the divine light of spiritual bliss represented by the eternal perfection of God.

If you are a Gnostic, you identify yourself with the eternal light as much as you can despite being entrapped in a stinking physical body; if you are “something else” you are mired within or even accept as natural the filthy delusion of materialism. So this basic black vs. white situation is offered, yet author David Madsen (a pseudonym) identifies himself as a “theologian, philosopher and therapist.”

And that’s why I bring up the whole Uncle Charles Principle thingy – because if Madsen truly is an accomplished theologian and philosopher, then he knows that Gnosticism is deeper or at least far more variegated than as it is portrayed in this book.

In other words, the Gnosticism here should be considered that as comprehended by the character Peppe the dwarf.

Furthermore, by invoking the Uncle Charles Principle we can also indemnify the author from a Freudian-like obsession with feces, urine, sweat, blood, flatus and sexual bodily fluids, as well as persistent representation of the sex act as a kind of primeval debauchery on par with a violent attack of diarrhea.

In these pages readers will confront an onslaught of hetero- and homosexual content. At worst the sex is often shocking and violent; at best it is depicted as a moral failing. Interspersed between these episodes of human-animal copulation are persistent references to defecation, urination, sweat, bodily odors, vomit, sundry oozings, obesity and perversions, such as when Peppe’s the dwarf’s alcoholic-whore mother attempts to have sex with him.

Another example: A remarkable scene depicting a Gnostic initiation rite during which the candidates are expected to drink from a cup containing the freshly ejaculated sperm of their leader. The reader is mercifully spared the denouement of this passage – but only because the substitute is an eruption of blood-spurting violence involving the hacking of heads and arms, guttings, and torture.

This is necessarily not a plot-driven work since it is fashioned as a memoir; although there are significant subplots that help drive the narrative and makes it more than a travelogue through Renaissance Italy. Conflict is provided by the tension between the corrupt Catholic Church of and the budding Protestant reformation. An evil agent of the Inquisition also provides a delicious villain whom our heroes must escape or plot against – and finally, there is a backdrop of the ever-ongoing wars between the dominant principalities of the day.

The final chapter of Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf is an inexplicable, almost bizarre departure from the always salacious, nasty, but erudite and baroque style of the rest of the book. The end reads like a smarmy Edwardian novel dripping with high-handed sentimentality and soaring proclamations of idealized commitment, along with a dedication to pursue a trajectory of philosophical purity.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

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Rocket Man by William Hazelgrove is a funny, entertaining novel which will appeal to a popular audience but delivers a troubling indictment of our times

Review by KEN KORCZAK

One of our greatest writers, Joyce Carol Oates, gives us a powerful paragraph in her 1969 National Book Award winning novel “Them.” In the book, a confused former college student who flunked out of Prof. Oates’ English composition class is writing her a letter. The student writes:

You said, “Literature gives form to life.” I remember you saying that very clearly. What is form? Why is it better than the way life happens by itself? I hate all that, all those lies, so many words in all those books … But I remember you saying that about form. Form. I don’t know what that word means.

Ah yes — “Literature gives form to life.”

That line kept drifting into my mind as I was reading ROCKET MAN by Chicago-area writer WILLIAM HAZELGROVE. But also as I read, I was thinking: “I bet this book is barely fiction at all, but rather a more-or-less spun version of real events from the author’s life.” As a matter a fact, he suggests this is somewhat the case in an afterword note to readers.

And so, like that poor student, one might ask Mr. Hazelgrove: “Why? Why is this book of fiction better than the way your life itself actually happened?

Ms. Oates provides the answer: Because fiction brings form to life.

This is what enables William Hazelgrove to hold up a mirror not just to himself, but to all of middle class America. By making this a work of fiction, he brings it home to us all, helping bring form to our lives.

I noticed that other reviewers frequently latched onto the term “middle class angst” to describe what the author is getting at in this tale. But I think another term captures it more accurately: “Postmodern ennui.”

Websters defines ennui this way: “A feeling of weariness and disgust; dullness and languor of spirits, arising from satiety or want of interest.

The viewpoint character of Rocket Man, Dale Hammer, meets this definition well. He is a burned out novelist mooning over the long-past glory of his three published books, now years out of print. Sailing into middle age and a mid-life crisis, he is too exhausted to write another. He also has achieved a kind materialistic satiety – even though it’s a false gratification because he gained it by taking on ruinous debt. He displays languor of spirit. He may still be obsessed with his literary career, but he has inexplicable misplaced it, like a screwdriver lost in a junk drawer.

So how about the postmodern part? Well, his psychic ennui is being brought on by his immersion in the materialistic and grotesquely avaricious nature of modern American society.

Other great writers, such as Norman Mailer, talked about this kind of stuff all the time. In a 1991 Time magazine interview, Mailer said:

We’ve got an agreeable, comfortable life here as Americans. But under it there’s a huge, free-floating anxiety. Our inner lives, our inner landscape is just like that sky out there — it’s full of smog. We really don’t know what we believe anymore, we’re nervous about everything.

Mailer was also getting at this, albeit tangentially, in his “White Negro” essay of the late 1950s. In it he says that what psychologists call “sublimation” has broken down among Americans because “proper sublimation depends on a reasonable tempo of history.” (Note: sublimation is when we transform are worst primitive traits of lust and violence into positive action for the good of society.)

William E. Hazelgrove

Mailer said our modern society is moving, changing and evolving too rapidly for sublimation to work properly. This might be the situation we see inflicted upon the protagonist of Rocket Man. He’s a good guy and innocent at his core, but the fast-madness of modern life and the constant grasping for material comforts and status is eroding his ability to sublimate his inner demons.

To this end, Dale Hammer keeps getting into small and major-sized jams. His bills are going unpaid, he is ignoring his children, he has alienated his wife to the edge of divorce. He also incites petty scrapes with the law; he sips an alcohol-laced cocktail while driving with kids in the back seat, he speeds in school zones, he bristles at even minor figures of authority. He has devolved without guilt into the role of pathetic small-time slum lord. He’s snarky, sarcastic, irresponsible and lazy.

Yet, despite all this, we can all still like him. We even root for him to triumph over the mess he has made of his life. That’s because, more than anything, we clearly see he is dazed and confused in an blameless sort of way. It’s as if he woke up one day, looked around at the train wreck of his existence, and asked himself: How did I get here? This is my life? Some kind of terrible mistake has been made!

We feel sympathy for him because we all see ourselves in Dale Hammer. So many of us have made all the same mistakes, and, like Dale Hammer, we are bewildered about how things got this way. The neo-slavery of debt? Nonstop work and stress? A country bitterly divided Left and Right? The mindless brutality of AM talk radio? This is the American Dream?

Can you believe that what I’m reviewing here is billed as a “comic novel?” Ha,ha! Well, damned if it isn’t! I’m confident that 99 out of 100 readers will get big laughs from Rocket Man, even if it’s the whistling in the graveyard variety prompted by gallows humor.

As for me, I kept thinking of Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: “I laugh because I must not cry. That is all. That is all.”

NOTE: See also my review of William Hazelgrove’s latest book, THE PITCHER

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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“We, The Drowned” by Danish writer Carsten Jensen is an epic masterpiece in the tradition of Melville, but rendered in a modern style that’s darkly funny, often disturbing but always accessible

Review by KEN KORCZAK

After the first chapter of WE, THE DROWNED, my impression was that I was reading a book by an author who is a basically a Danish version of our own Garrison Keillor here in Minnesota –a local guy offering folksy, funny, sometimes pithy tales of small town Scandinavians.

But the farcical beginning quickly gives way to a violent, bloody realism. Author CARSTEN JENSEN describes a horrific naval battle between a Danish ship and a battery of German artillery. There’s exploding bodies, gore, death and dismemberment, shock and anguish, followed by the psychological devastation and numbing humility of POW captivity.

And yet – mixed in with the realism is an element of the supernatural and dark comedy – but the mysticism is subtle and in the background. Both the realism and esoterica are handled with a cynical and sardonic humor that makes you wonder what the author is really trying to say.

We, The Drowned tells the story of the tiny village of Marstal, which located on Ærø Island in the south of Denmark. (It’s a real place, although this is fiction). The story begins in 1848 and documents the life of the community through 1945. Marstal life has basically one vocation – seamanship. Every other occupation, from farming and blacksmithing, to local grocery and clothing stores, revolve around serving the values of sailors, ships and the sea.

The story begins and ends with war — the Danish-German First Schleswig War of 1848 and World War II. The vast middle of the novel, however, is not about war. Rather, it follows the individual lives of a selection of fictional citizens of Marstal. And it’s not just about sailing either.

Jensen devotes long sections to the life of Ærø Island boys – their impossibly Byzantine education in schools where severe corporeal punishment seems to be the entire purpose of primary education. The free-time of childhood is spent roaming the island as gangs of trouble makers. Just about all of the boys live without fathers most of the time – the dads are always away at sea. The sometimes comical, often brutal activities of youth are attempts to become men on their own, without the guidance of fathers.

I emphasize school-age “boys” because girls are all but absent from this tale. An adult woman take the stage in a supporting role about half-way through, but this is basically a book about boys and men – although I will say that women play a supporting role in a way that that at least acknowledges their influence in Marstal’s universe.

Carsten Jensen

I occurs to me that out of the more than 100 books I have read in the previous year, this 700-page epic is the most difficult of them all to review. It’s maddeningly difficult to pin down the essential soul of the book. (This is also what makes it a joy to read).

Here you’ll find page after page of delightful dark humor, but which gives way to black comedy that cries out at the meaninglessness of life. The characters often find themselves literally adrift or blown off course on an uncaring sea that feels free to kill them at random. The sea serves as the ultimate metaphor for the existential nightmare that is the fate of all mankind – a place where a caring God or rational explanation for life is entirely absent.

Jensen portrays human beings as greedy, lust-driven, violent pawns tossed about by the whims of fate — yet, he offers subtle hints that a higher order may be guiding the human race after all. In the darkest of times, the characters are sometimes granted glimpses of love and hope, especially if they act with courage and selfless bravery – but they just as often meet grotesque and horrifying fates – even when trying to behave with higher moral purpose.

Let me sum up this way: This book has the flavor of classics such as Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” and Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” –but rendered with a thoroughly modern literary approach that most closely resembles that of Kurt Vonnegut (especially his Slaughterhouse Five). Then throw in equally hefty portions of Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ole Rølvaag – and you get We, The Drowned.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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A.D. After Disclosure: A typical book spinning mundane conspiracy theories that are not well-thought out — also painfully dull, padded, wordy and bland

Review by KEN KORCZAK

This book reads like it was written by a couple of teenage boys who just had their minds blown by the latest super-cool Star Trek movie, and then decided to start a super-cool blog so they could riff about all the cool possibilities of dealing with hostile aliens.

But it doesn’t even have that fun infectious enthusiasm of jazzed-up fanboys.

A.D. AFTER DISCLOSURE is depressing and boring. It’s also riddled with factual errors and egregiously bad logic. It’s hopelessly naïve.

Perhaps worst of all, it offers nothing in terms of new, inside information on the UFO issue. The rare tidbits it does offer are so stupid and laughable they’re like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit. Here, I’ll give you an example:

The authors offer:

A British “scientist,” whom they do not name, says that his grandfather was a bodyguard for Winston Churchill during World War II. This bodyguard managed somehow to eavesdrop on Churchill having a top-level meeting with General Dwight Eisenhower. This bodyguard overhears their private conversation in which Churchill tells a story – whom he heard from someone else — about a military pilot whose aircraft was buzzed for a few minutes by a UFO.

This bodyguard then blabs it to his daughter — who is then age 9 — yes, he tells his 9-year-old details of a private meeting between the Prime Minister and the Supreme Military Commander of WWII Europe.

Then – years later – eventually — this daughter grows up, gets married and finally gives birth to “the scientist” who one day hears the story from his mother – you know, the story she heard at age 9 from her loose-lipped eavesdropping bodyguard dad — who overheard two leaders of the Free World discuss a second-hand report from an anonymous World War II pilot who saw a UFO.

More years go by during which time the boy grows up, apparently goes through years of college – and at last becomes “a scientist” – and voilà! -his story can finally be told! His information finally trickles into this book after the authors read it in — wait for it – wait for it – a British ‘Red Top’ tabloid, The Daily Mail!

Yes!

The Daily mail, a paper known for its sensationalism and fondly referred to by local Brits as “The Daily Fail”!

Woooo-hoooo!!!! Take that, skeptics!

Speaking of newspapers and journalism, the authors’ understanding of the media and the role of the press in society is abysmally simplistic.

On the one hand:

In typical conspiracy theory fashion, they maintain that a significant portion of those in positions of media power are on the payroll of the CIA, or some other nefarious government black-ops service. Hand-in-hand with government spooks, and with pockets full of payola cash, these paid-off media operatives are expertly killing key stories, and also seeding well-placed disinformation stories to masterfully social engineer the perceptions of the public on the UFO issue. Yes! It’s that easy!

On the other hand:

They repeatedly accuse the press of being “lazy,” “too timid,” “hysterical,” “asleep at the switch,” “unwilling to challenge or confront powerful people” – in short, a gaggle of incompetent, pandering, lazy boobs who would rather stick to the easy stuff, you know, like the topics that shape people’s daily lives, such as crime, the economy, covering local school boards and city council meetings, transportation, poverty, social injustice- the distracted lazy bums!

RICHARD DOLAN AND BRYCE ZABEL want it both ways – when they need the media to be a powerful, organized, efficiently competent manipulator of the minds of an entire nation, then the media is an entity of frightening power, efficiency and intelligence. But when they want to moan about the lack of media attention to the UFO issue, the media then becomes a “lazy,” “timid,” “unwilling,” and “asleep at the switch” — a mass of bungling gomers who helplessly pander and suck up to powerful government agents.

But notice when the authors need to provide a citation for one of their claims, they gladly pluck an item from a cheesy mainstream media British tabloid and serve it up to their readers.

The authors also pass on a dubious bit of information which is often repeated but which has been thoroughly debunked as — if not untrue – at least improvable- and this misinformation is that former CIA director William Colby director said, “The CIA owns everyone of any significance in the major media.”

Again, Colby never said this, it has been all-but proven that he never said it, and those who care to Google this issue and check on it will see that I am right – and the authors should have Googled it and checked it too – but either they didn’t, or didn’t care to, but were happy to pass on this disinformation anyway.

Okay, but now wait a minute – don’t the authors cite an excellent Rolling Stones article by the mighty Carl Bernstein who showed in great detail how the CIA once recruited reporters and infiltrated all of the major news institutions, including the New York Times, Time Magazine and others? And don’t the reporters themselves admit – even the owners and editors of these major news organizations admit – that they had dozens of reporters on the CIA payroll?

Yes, but here are the facts: Those reporters were not involved in writing stories for consumption of the American public, or involved in shaping public opinions by seeding stories- stories that were dictated by CIA spies – and especially not stories about UFOs.

Rather, the CIA was using real reporters as covers to act as spies mostly to snoop on other governments around the world, especially the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The CIA was saying to reporters things like, “Hey, since you’re going to Yugoslavia anyway to do a story about agriculture, will you check to see how many paved airports they have and how many Soviet aircraft you see while you’re there, and let us know when you get back?”

Furthermore, when it became well-known that major media outlets were renting out reporters to act as part time information gatherers for the CIA, Congress objected to the practice and ordered that this kind of activity be ended – which it did – some 35 years ago.

If you don’t believe this, and if you still think the CIA has an iron grip on the American Press, then ask yourself:

* Why didn’t the CIA stop the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, a devastating blow to the Vietnam War effort, and major embarrassment to the U.S.?

* Why didn’t the CIA stop the Washington Post and New York Times from knocking off President Nixon himself, the Vice President and other top power brokers over the Watergate break-in scandal? Nixon as Commander-In-Chief and top guy of everything had the CIA at his bidding.

* Why didn’t the CIA stop the Washington Star, New York Times from revealing the heinous Tuskegee Experiment scandal in which government creeps secretly infected black men with venereal disease so they could study them?

* Why didn’t the CIA stop Rolling Stone from running Bernstein’s CIA/journalists Cold War connections article?

* Why didn’t the CIA stop the New York Times from breaking the Iran-Contra Affair, which was partly a CIA operation?

* Why didn’t the CIA stop the media when it uncovered and published the story of Nixon’s Secret Bombing of Cambodia, My Lai Massacre, CIA involvement in Bay of Pigs Invasion, 9/11 government incompetence?

* Why didn’t the CIA stop Dana Priest of The Washington Post for her persistent, painstaking reports that uncovered the secret CIA “black site” prisons in foreign countries and other controversial features of the government’s counter-terrorism campaign?

* Why didn’t the CIA stop Barton Gellman of The Washington Post for his authoritative and provocative coverage which blew the lid off the lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, embarrassing the CIA to a huge extent, and revealing the CIA as incompetent?

Yea, verily, so it would seem that, despite what authors Dolan and Zabel would have you believe, the CIA is not as all-powerful, and so in control of the press as they say. Also there are clearly a lot of reporters out there who are hungry, eager, unstoppable and constantly driving hard at the hoop, lusting after fame, a Pulitzer Prize and the truth — and they have nailed the CIA and embarrassed it again and again, decade after decade, on the very biggest stories.

Yet, the suggestion in this book is that there is not a single journalist – among many thousands – who is willing to dig deep enough to find out the truth about what the government knows about UFOs and alien technology – that all the reporters are either “under control and paid off” and/or “too lazy.”

Yeah right. What a crock.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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“Antiques Don’t Bounce” by Richard Bullivant is a breezy, delightful read

Review by KEN KORCZAK

This is a delightful book because it manages to achieve what few books do: It makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. ANTIQUES DON’T BOUNCE by British author RICHARD BULLIVANT is proof that craft of writing will never go stale as long as there are authors who can look around their ordinary worlds with a sharp eye and tell us about what they see and experience in a way that seems magical.

The story follows the journey of a young college student seeking a business degree performing a mandatory year of work service in the real world of doing an ordinary job. Out of sheer lack of direction he drifts into a bottom-basement, entry-level position with a firm whose primary function is transporting antiques. It’s basically a glorified moving company, or what the Brits call “a removal service” although what they move in this case is often unique and highly valuable. The year is 1977.

This is not a plot driven book, and the view-point character is merely a voice in the background. But think of it more like Homer’s Odyssey. In that epic tale Ulysses find himself blown off course, cast away and thrust into a vast world of strange unknowns. He encounters bizarre characters and experiences strange new lands.<> In this case, the sprawling London firm, Lloyd & Taylor Ltd., is the ocean, and our student, like Ulysses, is tossed about from department to department to work as a common gopher or more accurately: a jack-of-do-whatever-we-tell-you-to-do. Like Ulysses, he grapples with confounding situational problems and meets eccentric (or comically dull) characters in each department.

Richard Bullivant

Bullivant’s ability to bring alive common folks as vibrant, fascinating characters is a primary strength of this book. You’ll meet drab clerks, salty truckers, smooth salesmen, cagey warehouse workers, a boozed up messenger grunt, prissy art dealers, small-town blokes – each an absolute enchantment.

The author is also able to convey to the reader a marvelous feeling – such as the joy of a breezy drive through the countryside on a lovely spring day – in a way that makes you feel you’re actually riding along on a lark through Merry Old England. It’s great escapism,

As the year comes to an end, I have read and written reviews for more than 100 books, and Antiques Don’t Bounce easily makes my Top 10. If this book doesn’t find best-seller status, I hope it achieves a significant niche audience or cult following. It’s the kind of book that you “discover” and makes you feel like you found a gem.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

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The Other Pilot by Ed Baldwin is an aviation thriller that gets muddled in the middle, making the plot veer off course for a crash landing

Review by KEN KORCZAK

THE OTHER PILOT is an ambitious attempt to write a thriller novel which incorporates some of the most relevant issues of our day – the banking crisis, the growing mistrust of the U.S. Government, political power, conspiracy theories – all wrapped up in the world of hot-jock fighter pilots who live, breath, sleep and eat flying, fighter jets and all things avionic.

The problem is that the author’s skill is not equal to the task at hand. The first three chapters are tight and do an excellent job of setting up a confounding mystery – and the last three or four chapters feature some fine, well-handled action scenes that get the blood pumping.

However, the downfall is the vast muddy middle of this novel. Writer ED BALDWIN, a retired Air Force flight surgeon, loses his grip on the control stick of his plot. He sets out to follow a well-designed literary flight plan, but instead gets lost in heavy fog and crash lands in a swamp teaming with conspiracy theories, right-wing paranoia about the U.N., NRA gun-nut blather, corporate banking scams, and preachy lectures on the innate human superiority of the fighter pilot.

Ed Baldwin

I’m well familiar with pilots. I once worked as communications writer within the aerospace industry. This afforded me the opportunity to meet, interview and interact with some of the most stellar and accomplished pilots of our day.

For example, I met and interviewed the great Scott Crossfield, the first man to break Mach 2. I sat down to a lunch and conversed with an impressive guy — the Marine aviator James Buchli — who logged more than 4,000 hours in jet fighters, including combat missions in the F-4 Phantom II. Buchli went on to fly four Space Shuttle missions.

One of my best friends while I worked in aerospace was a Vietnam-era B-52 pilot who happened to grow up in the same small North Dakota town as my first cousin, who was also a B-52 pilot and retired from the Air Force a Full Bird colonel.

But the bottom line is – and this is what those-who-are-absorbed-in-the-bliss-of-Aviation-Salvation-but-who-want-to-be-writers don’t understand – is that there are those of us who don’t care all that much about airplanes, bombers and fighter jets. We think they’re boring. And believe it or not, I really don’t think that a man’s pilot license can automatically trigger a sexual frenzy in the female human body, or that taking a woman flying in the clouds will cause her nipples to get hard (as happens in this book).

No, I’m a lowly earth-hugging drudge, skulking along in the low-paying gravel pits of the writing business. What really gets my rocks off is a tight plot, a blistering pace, a viewpoint character who is constantly in the clutches of grave danger, and who is fighting tooth and nail, page after page, to defeat the evil forces marshaled against him.

I like of lot of narrow escapes, background maneuvering and intrigue. I don’t give a bent wing flap if the plot is driven by fighter pilots or cloistered nuns weaving carpets in Tuscany — as long as the rendering is compelling and gripping – and keeps me jabbing the Kindle “page-turn button” like a cobra striking a small, furry animal.

This story makes too many unscheduled landings to let the characters kick back with some cold beers, spicy burritos, fried chicken, collard green and the occasional bout of athletic sex. But even great sex and peppery food can be dull if it stalls out the plot and causes a nose dive down to storybook swampland.

If you are among the Aviation Elect, have accepted Frank Borman as your Personal Savior, and believe the only thing that separates you from the slavery of a foreign power is a fleet of demigods stroking the sticks of F-16s armed with 2,000-pound bombs – you may enjoy The Other Pilot. If that’s not you, well …

Ken Korczak is the author of BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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“Awakening’s Treasure” by G.A. Codazik is a disastrous, bungling attempt at transcendent prose-poetry

Review by KEN KORCZAK

There is a common saying within the Zen community: “To speak about Zen is to not know Zen.” To write and read about it is to not know it either. Of course, that hasn’t stopped uncounted monks, teachers, lecturers, poets, sages and authors (of all traditions) from spewing millions of words and publishing tens of thousands of pages about – ironically – “that which cannot be named.”

But that’s the way it is. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a paradox. Talking and reading about transcendence will not help you achieve it or get there, but you have to talk and read about it anyway. That’s what’s endlessly weird about “enlightenment” or “full realization” or whatever you want to call it.

However, that doesn’t mean that every book written on this ultimate topic is of equal quality – and this book, AWAKENING’S TREASURE, is an unqualified disaster.

This is a struggling, stumbling, clumsy and muddy attempt to point the way and inspire, but goes fantastically awry on multiple levels.

It’s riddled with imprecise metaphors, clichés and hackneyed phrases, painfully repetitive imagery, and that imagery is pedestrian, pretentious, dull, pompous and boring – and depressingly so.

Let me prove that what I am saying is accurate with selection examples, starting with:

Hackneyed and cliché phrases

EXAMPLE: “We’re drawn to our inner garden/ignoring all else/Like a moth focused only on the flame”

Not only is a ‘moth to a flame’ a hackneyed metaphor, the way it is used here misses the mark.

When we use ‘moth to a flame’, we are generally talking about a negative event, or an unfortunate happening. The moth gets fooled, and then singed or burned to death – yet the author choses this negative cliché to describe how we are drawn to the transcendent state!

Ridiculous!

EXAMPLE: “… when our inner Ocean rains its grace/A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Well! How about a tired phrase gleaned from politics and greedy businessmen? The ‘rising tide’ comment was popularized by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s in reference to his trickle-down economics favoring tax breaks for the extremely wealthy, and has since worked its way into common usage.

The phrase was actually first coined in a speech by President Kennedy in 1962 – and his speech writer borrowed the phrase from some businessmen selling yachts in New England.

But the bigger offense is that ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ is a dull, overused image that does nothing to inspire – much the opposite, it drags us down by invoking the dull dreariness of life.

I could go on with many more but let’s move on to:

Improper, imprecise language:

EXAMPLE: “Waiting only the turning of our heads to see it, Like (sic) sunflowers tracking the motion of the sun.”

Again, a worn-out metaphor – but also an inaccurate one based on a common misconception – you know – a delusion.

Let’s me tell you as a guy who lives in a rural area next to a large field of sunflowers – they don’t follow the sun. Sunflowers come up facing the sun in the east, and when the sun sets, their faces remain glued to the east.

This from Wikipedia:

This old and chronic misconception was debunked already in 1597 by the English botanist John Gerard, who grew sunflowers in his famous herbal garden: “[some] have reported it to turne with the Sunne, the which I could never observe, although I have endevored to finde out the truth of it.

One of the primary paths to enlightenment involves what spiritual masters call, “just seeing.” That is, just see your world for the way it really is. Don’t overlay your world with pre-formed ideas or what you have pre-conceptualized based on common knowledge – but just perceive directly. So I find it painfully ironic that the author trots out a metaphor based on a common misconception – and a well-known one at that.

That’s inexcusable.

That this is a short book, and that there are so many examples of clumsy usages and utterly bland imagery borders on the astounding.

My rather severe and strict Ninth Grade English teacher, Mrs. Allen, often withered us with her red-penciled condemnations if we allowed “colloquialisms” to slip into our school essays. A colloquialism is a word or phrase that is employed in conversational or informal language but not in formal speech or formal writing.

Mrs. Allen would roll over in her grave if she knew that books like Awakening’s Treasure were on the shelves and floating around as ebooks in cyberspace – it’s almost as if the author made a concerted effort to break the record for the amount flat colloquial usage that could be fit into a limited space.

Just a few of the “dead wood” and “junk phrases” clogging up this manuscript:

“Asleep at the wheel …”

“All this stress calls out for a cosmic shock absorber …”

“Just running on autopilot with life in overdrive …” (Yet another automobile metaphor, I guess)

“Prime the pump …”

“Dirty laundry is laid bare …”

“Grasping at straws …”

“Crawl out on a limb …”

“Can’t get a word in edgewise …”

“Collapse like a house of cards …

“Providing a wake-up call …”

“Speaking with a forked tongue …”

“A poster child on automatic pilot …” (the author uses both forms, ‘autopilot’ and ‘automatic pilot’, demonstrating again a painful inattention to word choice)

“Emerge from a cocoon…”

“Like a hall of mirrors …”

“Swept under the carpet …”

And there’s lots more.

So the writing is either lazy, sophomoric or amateurish, but is there at least some substance delivered in terms of what the book promises – to help people find their way out of the delusional daydream of unreality to a state of transcendent clarity?

The answer is that is offers absolutely nothing of substance. Rather, this document is like a caged parrot repetitively squawking without understanding threadbare phrases which do nothing to illuminate transcendent concepts that have been been known for centuries.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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J.R. Tomlin’s ‘Freedom’s Sword’ Is Light-Weight Historical Fiction That Will Entertain and Retell a Much Told Story of Recent Years

Review by KEN KORCZAK

FREEDOM’S SWORD is a novel based on a real figure of history, a Scottish knight who fought fiercely against the tyranny of the English crown in the closing years of the 13th Century. Sir Andrew de Moray was a contemporary of William Wallace of “Braveheart” fame; indeed, Wallace and Moray were co-commanders at the great battle of Stirling Bridge in which the Scots pulled off a stunning victory against a vastly superior English force.

Some historians contend that many of the exploits attributed to Wallace were actually the accomplishments of Andrew de Moray – although they were both pretty tough customers.

It may or may not be fair to say that if you have seen the movie Braveheart starring Mel Gibson, then you will have an idea of the exact flavor, tenor, tone, sentiment and rendering of this novel.

As a historical novel, this is accurate enough in terms of keeping to the historical record. The majority of readers will find this entertaining enough to be well worth what they paid for it, and the time they spend reading it.

However, I’m can’t give this book sky-high marks for a variety of reasons:

• As historical novels go, this is not a work of deep scholarship. For example, there is no way this book is in the same league as works such as “Lincoln” or “Julian” by Gore Vidal, or, say, “Poland” or “Hawaii” by James Michener. Rather, Freedom’s Sword leverages just as much of the historical record it needs to serve merely as a backdrop for a popular entertainment novel. (There’s nothing wrong with that — just sayin’). But the fact is, this book does not attempt to revisit a key historical period with depth of analysis and detail to really make us see the times in a new way, or in a way that makes us think deeply or about what was.

• The narrative is oddly disjointed and jarring at times. The author fails to weave together the individual lives and alternating events in a way that makes it flow smoothly throughout the novel.

• A few chapters involving de Moray’s courting, marriage and relationship with his wife shift abruptly in tone from the rest of the novel – it’s as if someone took three or four chapters from a bodice-ripping, blushing romance novel and inserted amid a historical war drama. Again, this demonstrates the disjointed nature of the book.

• The author, J.R. TOMLIN, rightfully informs us that her depiction of de Moray’s wife is 100% fictional since no records of the real Lady de Moray exist. That’s fine, except the character she creates is a standard cliché of the genre– a feisty, irrepressible Scottish lass with flaming red hair who can take down a deer with a bow while mastering her steed — and who also eagerly sizzles with hot sexual passion under the embrace of her hero’s “rough, callused hands.”

• The book, this Kindle version at least, is poorly edited from first chapter through last.

Don’t get me wrong — not every historical novel should strive to be or needs to be a scholarly, weighty masterpiece involving years of deep research, personal interviews and combing through ancient, dusty museum records that are yellow, dusty and crackling with age — some may leverage just enough information from common sources to create the background for a good yarn. This book does that.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS