Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Life Transformed

Buried AppearancesBuried Appearances by D.E. Haggerty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Growing up in a Dutch enclave in Michigan, Skylar endures the stigma of her grandfather’s Nazi collaboration. The pressure coming from the community drives her mother to abandon her as an infant, which pushes her father to drunkenness and eventually suicide. Ten years after the death of the grandmother who raised her, a letter arrives from Holland. Unable to read Dutch, she takes it to a friend of her late grandmother who not only translates it, but tells Skylar a remarkable piece of information that cast a new light on the wartime deeds of her infamous grandfather. Not only is it possible that her ancestor was innocent of the calumny heaped upon him, but orphaned Skylar may have cousins living in Holland. Since she was out of work anyway, she decides to use some of her inheritance to finance her quest for the truth and her family. What she uncovers in Holland changes her life.

D.E. Haggerty tells this story through the voice of Skylar Dewitt, foul-mouthed misfit and deeply troubled young woman with abandonment issues, and that voice is irresistible. Her candor and insight endears her to the reader from the opening sentence. Ms. Haggerty’s knowledge of wartime Holland lends truth and realism to Skylar’s search for an answer to her family’s burden. History fans as well as genealogy researchers especially will hang of every word, even those words that are somewhat obscene. With a lightning pace and plenty of twists, Buried Appearances is a fantastic read.

Plus it's a bargain at $.99
73,420 words

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Lives Entertwined

EnemiesEnemies by Richard Whitten Barnes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Absentmindedly, Brian MacLennan left a bundle of sketches, that he drew during the Great War, in a hotel lobby. Jürgen Stern, in Canada on business, discovers those sketches and get quite a shock. Fifty years earlier he had taken one of them from the body of a Canadian soldier who he had killed in France. Apparently their lives had crossed paths more than once. The memories return of the mud, the vermin, the mindless killing, the deprivation and the mangled bodies, but the drawing he holds in hands makes him determined to meet his former enemy.

Richard Barnes has written more than a war story. Enemies is a story of redemption. It vividly recounts the horrors and futility of the First World War from the viewpoints of a young Canadian and German soldier. Then it takes an anecdote that the reader may think is merely filler, and turns it into a remarkable turn of events that restores honor to man wronged after fifty years.

Price $3.99
67,480 Words

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Conspiracy Is No Longer a Theory

Hard Drive: A Family's Fight Against Three CountriesHard Drive: A Family's Fight Against Three Countries by Mary Todd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A young American working in Singapore for a local high tech company, one doing business with China, was found hanging from the bathroom door by his girlfriend in June of 2012. Shane Todd was a PhD, specializing in cutting edge semi-conductors, specifically gallium nitride overlay on silicon, which is the future of communications and weapons guidance. Wuawei is a Chinese company associated with the Chinese government and military, and is doing business with IME, who employed Shane Todd. Veeco is an American company that manufactures state of the art machinery for overlaying gallium nitride. This sensitive piece of equipment can only be exported under a strict licensing agreement whereby the buyer promises not to use it for military purposes. IME sent Shane to receive training on the MOCVD machine because he was an American citizen, and Veeco, with a wink and a nod, can and did reveal formulas to him that IME could not obtain. The transaction was so shady that Shane had to copy the ‘recipes’ by hand. It dawned on him that what he was doing likely compromised American security, and he decided to leave IME. When he gave notice his boss urged him to stay with the company longer, to which he reluctantly agreed. During that time he secured a job in the United States, but he told his family that he feared his life was in danger. After the discovery of his body, the police ruled the death a suicide and closed the case. When his parents arrived in Singapore to claim the body, the investigating officer read to them a description of the crime scene that defied belief. Upon investigating, they realized that the official account was total nonsense; however, during their examination of Shane’s apartment, they discovered an external hard drive that subsequently shined a sinister light on a multinational conspiracy. No one who became familiar with this case disbelieved it was anything but murder, that is except the Singapore police, the coroner, the American Embassy, the FBI, the Department of Justice under Eric Holder and the State Department under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Did I mention this is a true story? Mary Todd is the mother of Shane Todd, Christina Villegas is his cousin, together they have compiled a superbly written chronicle of the blatant cover-up of a heinous crime likely committed at the behest of one or more governments, and not only obfuscated by the authorities in Singapore, but with the complicity of the Obama administration. During her quest for justice, Mary Todd was told bluntly by a U.S. Congressman that, yes, there should be a Congressional investigation, but there would never be one, because “Wuawei has a lobbyist on every corner in Washington.” During the ordeal her computer was hacked, then Shane’s hard drive and transcripts of the coroner’s inquiry were stolen from her home. The Financial Times and 48 Hours, among other news outlets, have covered this story. Hard Drive reads like the very best spy thriller. What a pity it isn’t fiction. Every American needs to read this book, and to do so before they vote.

Post Script to this review: I just replied to a discussion on LinkedIn and was appalled to see an ad for Wuawei on the sidebar. Why must we insist on handing our country to belligerent foreigners?

Price: $9.99

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Racism in the Buckeye State

Clarence OlgibeeClarence Olgibee by Alan S Kessler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mrs. Olgibee has seen what it means to be no-account, and as a black mother, she is determined that category will never be applied to Clarence. Unfortunately her loveless discipline backfires, and Clarence trades his dream of medical school and jazz piano for the physical attractions of a light-skinned girl whose universe revolves only around herself. Clarence’s friend, Todd, is the only white boy at school. His ultra-liberal family sacrificed a Manhattan apartment for the spiritual joy of being the only white family in the black neighborhood. After Todd’s father commits suicide, a white supremacist lures the boy into his clutches and programs him to hate and kill. Meanwhile, Clarence knocks-up conceited Gwen, and while in an odd state of denial, joins the Navy to escape the burdens of fatherhood, earning his mother’s excommunication. Space limits comments on all the characters. Additionally we have an idiot savant, an inbred hick, numerous racists killers, a Filipina freedom fighter and an alcoholic, probably syphilitic, philanthropist who rescues animals, and people, only to let them wither and die. After all that there is still a cast too numerous to mention.

Clarence Olgibee is long convoluted story that deals frankly with racism and the disenfranchisement of minorities in the early fifties. It shines light on the neighborhood covenants prohibiting property sales to non-whites. It confronts tacit and overt segregation, and racial violence. Allen Kessler’s prose is elegant and descriptive, and his characters are wonderfully developed with unique voices. The downside is length. In the opinion of this reader, some of the scenes, well done though they are, do not add to the story. However, if you read for the glory of words, Clarence Olgibee is for you.

Words: 147,510

Price: $6.99

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Interview With Burt Boyar

Get ready to meet a genuine 
New York Times #1 Bestseller

Meet Burt Boyar, syndicated columnist, biographer and novelist.  Burt’s first book, Yes, I Can, the life of Sammy Davis, Jr., written in collaboration with Sammy Davis and wife, Jane Boyar, rocketed to the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Burt has a knack for discovering, or perhaps uncovering, outstanding primary source material, which has propelled him to write several more pieces of remarkable literature, including a follow-up to Yes, I Can, Why Me?  An association with tennis pros, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewell yielded World Class.  Research for the sports novel drew Burt and Jane to Spain where they fell into a rental property belonging to the daughter of dictator, Francisco Franco, which resulted in the historical novel, Hitler Stopped by Franco.  Until her sudden death in 1997 Burt always worked with Jane, also producing Invisible Scars and H.L. and Lyda.  Blessed is Burt’s intimate memoir documenting his amazing life, and Low Society reveals the high life in New York of the 50’s and 60’s.  Finally, Photo By Sammy Davis, Jr. is a coffee table book assembled from a treasure trove of photographs taken by Sammy Davis that Burt discovered after the entertainer’s death.  Burt’s reminiscences embellish the photos of Hollywood’s elite.

It has been my pleasure to review several, in fact most, of Burt’s books.  You can read those reviews elsewhere on this blog, or on the book pages of most of the retailers.  Now, let’s hear from the great man himself.

Tell us how you met Sammy Davis.

I was a Broadway columnist in New York when Sammy arrived on Broadway starring in MR. WONDERFUL. I called him, as I called all celebrities, to get something for my column. He knew my column and suggested we have dinner. We did, that night, at Danny’s Hideaway. We had instant chemistry. The kind when you know this is someone you’re going to be friends with all of your life. Sammy stood up to go do his show and suggested, “Whattya say we have dinner…..say….5 nights a week?”  He was definitely an original. As it happens we were together seven nights a week for the entire year he was on Broadway, for dinneer and then after his show until the wee hours of the morning.

Do you recall how long Yes, I Can held the number one spot on the New York Time’s list?

I remember that it was on the list for 28 consecutive weeks, most of them up at the top against Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD and the two big Kennedy books by Schlessinger and Sorenson. The List is really a horse race, depending on who you’re up against. I do recall that the paperback by Pocket Books came out at Number One, but can’t recall for how long. That was 1966, 50 years ago.

Whose idea was it for you to write Sammy Davis’ autobiography?

We took Sammy to the “chic” nightclub El Morocco, and though the customers were thrilled to see him and applauded as he walked in and the dance band began playing all the music from Mr. Wonderful , the owner, John Perona was unthrilled at the presence of a black man in his club, despite his elegant  attire and celebrity, so we weren’t treated well. We had one drink and left and when we got back to Sammy’s apartment he sighed, “They don’t understand. We’ve got to let them know.” So Jane and I took a one year leave of absence from my column and began writing a book which became Yes I Can. The one year became six.

You have struggled for years, probably decades, to see Yes, I Can made into a movie, which it rightly deserves.  What is the problem?

Sammy had three children with May Britt (2 adopted) and one adopted during his marriage to Altovise. After Sammy’s death the kids could never agree on who owns what of his estate. No movie studio will invest 50 million dollars and then be sued by some family member who claims  they didn’t give permission. Even if they own 1% of the coyright. I own 50%.  But until everyone signs off nothing can happen. Happily, Lionel Richie got    involved and convinced the kids that 100% of nothing is nothing and we are now going forward. There will be an announcement of an A-List film producer and writer and director very soon.

Racism is major theme in Yes, I Can.  What are your thoughts on race relations today?

It still exists in many ways and places. Our country is deeply divided. Hopefully our film and Sammy’s experiences will help a bit to change that.

You devoted hundreds of thousands of words to telling the world what Sammy Davis was like.  Can you give the readers the short form here?

The only short explanation of Sammy Davis, Jr. is that he was a genius off stage as well as on.  A five-foot two-inch giant of a man. He did not have one day of formal education in a school but he read everything he could and could hold his own on any major topic of the day with people like Henry Kissinger.

When did you discover, and how did you feel about renting a house at Marbella from Francisco Franco’s daughter?

When we rented the house from the administrator I asked for a mailing address to give to my parents and was told Casa de la Marquesa de Villaverde, Los Monteros, Marbella, (Malaga) Spain. The only titles I knew of at that time were Best Seller, Oscar Winner, etc. Only when we were living in the house did we learn that our landlady was the daughter of the Chief of State.
I know that you and Jane became friends with Carmen Franco.  Did you interview her for Hitler Stopped by Franco, or did you absorb the facts over time?

 Both. As friends we spent many weekends with Carmen and her husband Cristòbal, in their country home outside of Madrid, and they in our (their) house. We were there for 28 years. Around the 15th year of seeing how peaceful and well organized Franco’s Spain was we thought it would make a good book. We spent many hour interviewing Carmen, her mother (Franco had died) numerous former Ministers to whom they opened the doors for us. All on tape.

You always collaborated with Jane.  After her death did you find it difficult to write alone?

Everything was difficult after Jane died. And it still is 19 years later

You lived in Spain for twenty-eight years.  What do you miss about it?

It is a beautiful country and the Spaniards are warm and welcoming people, but I only miss the life we had there together. Those were truly our Golden Years.
Your social media footprint makes your political views abundantly clear.  If the 2016 election were to move the United States even farther from your liking, would you consider living abroad again?

No. I love my country, and no matter what they do to it, The U.S.A. is still the most wonderful, most generous country in the history of the world.

What is your opinion of the advent of self-publishing?

Self publishing is wonderful for many people but very difficult compared to being published by a main stream publisher who has a sales force for distribution and clout with the literary media.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do like to read?

Frankly, I have read all the great American, Russian, French and English writers, but I now find myself most entertained by erotica. Naively I did not know of it until a few years ago. But I’m making  up for lost time. It’s a lot more fun than the “classics”.

Invisible Scars is the story of a woman dealing with loss.  Is it pure fiction or is there some factual basis?

Half and half. The story is largely fiction but the characters are all based on real people we have known well.

Are you working on something new?

Yes. A book that will be called Conversations with Sammy. Jane and I taped 150 hours of old-friends-chatting with Sammy as part of the research for our second book with him, Why Me? He talks about his relationship with Frank Sinatra, Martin Luther King and his urging Bobby Kennedy to run for president, among many other fascinating things. He speaks of his relationship with his audiences, preparation for his shows and how he stumbled onto his two most successful songs, “Mr. Bojangles” and “The Candy Man” both of which he hated and didn’t want to do, commenting, “You think you’ve got all the show business smarts, but it’s the people who decide.” The transcript of those conversations runs two thousand pages, so it is a painful editing job to bring it down to a workable 4 or 5 hundred. There is enough great material for two volumes.

Autobiography of Sammy Davis, Jr. as told to Jane and Burt

More Sammy Davis

Novelized account of Franco foiling Hitler's plans

Burt's remarkable memoir

Fiction, a woman deals with tragic loss

Inside professional sports

New York hijinks during the 50s & 60s

Inside look at tycoon H.L. Hunt

Amazing collection of photographs with Burt's commentary

Learn more at www.burtboyar.com/
Twitter @Burt_Boyar

Member of the #RaveReviewBookClub

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Dawn of the Unthinkable

Dawn of the UnthinkableDawn of the Unthinkable by James Concannon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

An unremarkable creature of habit has his credit card refused at the convenience store on his way to work, and is forced to return home to get some cash so he can buy his daily Diet Dr. Pepper. He walks in on a home invasion in progress and witnesses his wife’s murder. Fast forward to his second marriage and routine life as a property manager for the government and a couple of part time jobs. Blaming money for his pathetic state, he decides to invent a social system without it. His Utopian essay fails to find a publisher or any interest from the dozens of dignitaries to whom he sent it. Finally a black political science professor and a Latino union organizer join him to promote the concept.

This socialist’s wet dream is the second worst book I ever finished. Its pace is geological and I agonized for many days, skimming at times, to see if the author was going to say, “April Fools” at the end. He didn’t. One must conclude that James Concannon actually aspires to live in a communistic society where parasites are provided with a comfortable standard of living and productive people are rewarded by being able to choose an upgrade on their free vehicle. Of course, it is all made possible by robbing the rich. The book is free, so I presume it is meant as propaganda, however, when even the Soviet Union couldn’t make it happen, people should realize socialism is a futile philosophy.

The prose is articulate, but the characters are bland to the point of being maudlin, and several of them play no part in the plot. I am not one of the point of view police, but the writer engages in the most egregious head hopping I’ve seen—often multiple times within a paragraph. The story ends without even telling the reader what happened after the plan was implemented. I guess we have to stand by for the sequels. I apologize to Mr. Concannon for writing such a negative review, but this book deserves it on multiple levels.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Into Autumn

An economic catastrophe triggers riots that escalate into the total collapse of civilization.  The power grid fails and communication systems vanish.  Looting and mayhem drive Eileen from the city.  Without a plan she drives into the unknown.  Somewhere in an empty forest in the south of Texas she is forced to abandon her car and walks for three days suffering from exposure and hunger.  Near death she stumbles onto the home of Lars, a survivalist who shunned the modern world long before the demise of civilization.  Their mutual needs bind them together, and over time they grow to be a devoted couple thriving is a world where every intruder is a deadly enemy.  In a world of kill or be killed, people are forced to make murderous decisions.

Into Autumn is a morality play with a strong lesson on survivalists’ skills.  It is also a story plagued by a few problems, namely minutia, a dearth of pronouns and repetition.  Every second of every day is described in painful detail with the character names repeated over and over again.  And do they ever drink tea!  If I never hear about tea again, it will be too soon.  Nothing can be said without someone agreeing to it, and every event terminates with a big hug and a kiss.  In some scenes every paragraph ends with a big hug and a kiss.  Into Autumn is fundamentally a good story that gives the reader much to ponder about human nature, it is however, told—and not shown—on a deeply troubled platform.

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