Book Review – Deadly Secrets by Gordon Bickerstaff

I’d love to say I met Gordon Bickerstaff on a safari in Africa where we were saving an undiscovered tribe from a horde of army ants using only our wits, a glass of water, and a half-empty Bic lighter, but the truth is I’ve never met the man and likely never will.

But it would make for an awesome story of heroism and bravery in the face of rampaging Mother Nature.

In a way, Deadly Secrets, the first Gavin Shawlins novel, is also an awesome story of heroism and bravery in the face of rampaging Mother Nature. It also features corporations run amok, secret societies, governments, and Russian special agents. In a nutshell, Deadly Secrets has pretty much everything you need for a quality techno-thriller.

The story revolves around a revolutionary new way of handling food. Whoa, back up there, cowboy; we’re not ready to read it quite yet. Like all techno-thrillers, Deadly Secrets needs something revolutionary to kick off the story. In this case it’s a food additive that will change everything, but comes with some complications. Revolutionary things bring in lots of money. LOTS of money. And money is the best way to get at the heart of the human beast. As soon as oodles of money become involved, things tend to spiral out of control pretty quickly. When it turns out the revolution has a fatal flaw, well, hell, that’s just the price of doing business.

Deadly Secrets wanders a bit at first – which is probably my only complaint about the story – as it introduces the main players in the game before settling into the bad guys being really bad guys and the good guys being fairly decent folk. There were a couple subplots that could have been excised, but overall it’s a cracking good read filled with memorable characters and a pretty spectacular climax that’s achieved in a non-standard way. I appreciated the cleverness of how Bickerstaff handles his major showdown while, at the same time, showing us just how awful the bad guys can really be.

If you like techno-thrillers that don’t go overboard trying to explain the technology, this is a great book. Deadly Secrets doesn’t get bogged down in technical details, it lets the technology take a back seat to the characters and the story. All in all, a great read and I’m looking forward to Everything To Lose.

By the way, never let it be said Twitter isn’t a good platform for promoting books. I found Deadly Secrets from meeting Gordon Bickerstaff on there!

new deadlysecrets

Get your copy here

Follow Gordon on Twitter

Check out Gordon’s Blog

4 Quick Ways To Write A #BookReview And Overcome Your Fears #MondayBlogs

I know I’ve said it before, but reviews are good things. Leaving a quick review that consists of nothing more than “Cool book” can make an author’s day.

Rosie Amber

Authors WANT  Reviews

Make an Author's Day

Simple! How many times have you read pleas on social media for readers to write reviews? – Probably Loads.

Does the thought of writing a book review send you racing to the hills? – I can see plenty of you nodding in agreement.

WHAT holds you back?

Reading Soft edge

6 common replies:

I can’t write.

I can’t write paragraphs about a book.

I don’t know what to write.

I’m afraid of what people will think of my review.

I’m an author and don’t want a backlash on my own books.

I don’t have the time.

Let’s turn this around

I can’t write – I bet if you can read, you can write.

I can’t write paragraphs about a book – Good News, Amazon accepts one sentence reviews now as do many other sites.

I don’t know what to write – Ah! Quick Question – Why did you like or Dislike…

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Book Review: The Bike Deconstructed by Richard Hallett

I built my first bike from the frame up earlier this year. It was an experience. I’m glad I did it, and fortunate that I had a couple friends that help me through the rough parts, but I had a ton of questions. I started cycling back in the late 80s, dropped it for a while, restarted, dropped it, and restarted it a couple years ago. I’m by no means a long distance rider, but it’s always been something I enjoyed and this year I felt it was time to try my hand at building a bike from scratch. In some ways, cycling is the crack rock of the sports world; it’s amazing addictive and once you start it, you’ll always come back to it.

Back in the late 80s, the cycling world was a different place. In many ways it was a much simpler world; there weren’t that many parts manufacturers out there and the parts were more interchangeable than they are now. In other words, the cycling world is a bit more of a baffling ordeal than it was 25 years ago.

So, after I finished building a cyclocross bike (it rocks, by the way), I stumbled across Hallett’s book on bikes. It would have been incredibly useful before I started building (as would Zinn and Art of Road Bike Maintenance, but that’s for a different review). Aside from the fact that Hallett manages to make the dizzying array of technical terms readily understandable, he treats bicycles as the work of engineering art that they are. In the end, not only do you wind up with a fascinating look at the parts of bicycles, you get bits of history about how the parts came to be. For instance, do you know the history quick release levers? Back in the 1920s, if you wanted to change gears on a bike, you had to take the wheel off. Tullio Campagnolo was trying to change gears during a race and his hands went numb from the cold, so he couldn’t get the rear wheel off because he couldn’t get his hands to move the wingnuts that held the wheel on. Yes, QR levers are that old.

That’s the kind of thing that makes The Bike Deconstructed: A Grand Tour of the Modern Bicycle such a fascinating read. Not only does it cover the current technologies, it gives the history of how we got to this point. And it’s full of historical tidbits.

Granted, The Bike Deconstructed isn’t for everyone. If you’re not into cycling, it may hold limited interest for you, but even then it’s still an pretty cool book. If you are into cycling, it’s a wondrous exploration of the history of the sport. The Bike Deconstructed focuses primarily on road bikes, so mountain bikers may find it less interesting, but it’s still worth checking out.

A metal frame, two wheels, pedals, a seat, and handlebars—on first glance, bicycles look pretty straightforward. And yet, even today’s most stripped-down bicycles can feature as many as two hundred parts, each with a critical role to play. The unbelievably efficient way they work together is what makes modern bicycles such marvels of compact engineering, and sometimes frustrating to diagnose and repair. In The Bike Deconstructed, bicycle guru Richard Hallett dismantles the modern bicycle to uncover the origin, design, and evolution of every integral part. Through stunning photography, accessible writing, and clear diagrams, Hallett examines every aspect of the bike in detail—from the anatomy of the drive chain to the geometry of the main frame, and from spoke weaving patterns to the effect of fork rake on steering and stability. So whether you are a leisurely cruiser or have dreams of entering the Tour de France, The Bike Deconstructed is your must-have cycle resource.

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Get your copy here (paperback)

Forgotten But Not Gone

People have this fundamental need to blow things off and attribute places and actions to paranormal entities and events. There is no way the pyramids could have been built by humans; it had to be aliens. All those giant ruins in Central and South America? Aliens. Incredibly long, slow biological change over millions of years? God. Or sometimes aliens. In extreme cases it could be alien gods.

pyramids

Aliens

Or something.

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Aliens

The simple truth is far less romantic than space brothers teaching primitive humans how to build giant things out of big rocks or an all-knowing, all-powerful being creating us out of sheer willpower and boredom. In truth, we just forgot how we did those things, and then we forget we did them at all. At some later point in history someone came along and said, “Ah-ha! I don’t know how this happened. It must have been aliens.”

Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

Aliens

We tend to forget two things, though. 1) Ancient people were pretty damned ingenious, and 2) They had a lot more free time on their hands than we do. They were also a damned site less lazy than we are, too.

Want an example from recent times? Giant freaking concrete arrows in the middle of nowhere all throughout the United States. Most are broken down, cracked and destroyed by the harsh elements. But a precious few of those arrows are still out there, pointing to something that we can only guess at.

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Not aliens.

At the peak of the arrow building madness that took hold in the United States in the early 20th century, it’s estimated that nearly 1500 50′-70′ long arrows dotted the countryside. Any serious future examination will probably reveal that they were religious in nature, pointing the way West to the promised land of Hall E Wood; a magical place where dreams came true and nightmares stalked the streets. Hall E Wood was primitive America’s conception of Heaven and Hell rolled into one location that was so expensive people had to sell their souls to live there.

ANNA NICOLE SMITH/ HALBFIGUR/ KLEID SCHWARZ/ DEKOLLETE/ HALSKETTE/ SCHMUCK/ DEKOLLETE/ HALTEN PISTOLE/ IN "TO THE LIMIT"/ FILMFOTO/ SW

Built by Hollywood aliens.

Trust me. After the world falls apart and rebuilds itself, that’s what future people will think. That or aliens made the arrows. It’s always religion or aliens responsible for everything people in the past did. It wasn’t because they were bored or being creative or just thought pyramids looked freaking awesome.

Gods or aliens. Or both.

The thing about the arrows is we actually do know quite a bit about them because we built them. Back in the early days of the United State, before the flyover states were created and connected with Interstates and airports, it took weeks to cross the country. Early aircraft could do the trip in significantly less time, but had a serious navigation problem.

No GPS. No radio towers. They had maps and compasses.

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Aliens. And maybe gods, too.

To overcome those trivial problems, early man, er, Americans, created waypoints across the country to help guide aircraft carrying mail: Giant arrows made out of concrete. When they were first created, you see, the arrows were painted bright yellow and had 5000 candlepower flashing lights on towers on top of them. Later advances in technology bammed that number up to 10000 candlepower. Those lights could be seen for 40 miles in the right conditions.

Those old concrete arrows were nothing more than lighthouses for airplanes. Who’da thunk it?

You’ve got to admit, the arrows would make an interesting plot point in a novel. Even if not, their story is interesting enough on its own.

Check out the full story here.

The World’s Most Evil Books – in movies and real life

Had to reblog this one. Who doesn’t like books? Especially the ones brimming over with power and madness.

parlor of horror

The World’s Most Evil Books – in movies and real life

book of shadows

For conjuring, spells, invocations and summoning the dark powers and Demonic entities

Books for summoning dark powers, entities, and magicks are often called Grimoires. These Grimoires were often collections of incantations and spells that practitioners accumulated in their travels, rewritten in an orderly fashion. Some were more intensive studies by monks, Satanists and sorcerers interested in the dark arts and attempting to unlock the secrets of death and the great beyond. Here’s a brief look at some of the most powerful dark arts books in the world.



TheBlackPullett

The Black Pullet – 1700s

This book from 18th century Rome gives instructions and guides on creating and using Talismans. The magic of the rings is known to bring forth a multitude of extraordinary powers of protection, healing, and spellbinding. One such ceremony concerns producing the Black Pullet, known as the…

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Ghosts and Ghostbusting

Given the extreme amount of vitriol heaped on the new Ghostbusters movie, I’m probably opening myself up for some crap by writing this, but screw it; I’ve been yelled at before and kept on going.

This is something of a one-off for me. I’ve written plenty of book reviews (partially because I’m a writer), but I’ve never done a movie review, so this is something of a historic occasion.

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Back in 1984 a little movie called Ghostbusters took horror and humor and mixed them into a delightful blend. It was the only thing people talked about for the whole summer. Everything was Ghostbusters: stickers, videos (back when MTV still played music), posters, quotes. The whole shebang. The whole damned country went nuts for four guys with proton packs and witty banter. And, really, they should have. It was a great movie. There wasn’t much to not love about it.

And then Ghostbusters II came out and the world kind of shuffled its feet awkwardly and apologetically said it had to be somewhere else. It’s not that Ghostbusters II was a bad movie; it’s hard to not like Vigo the Carpathian as a villain. He was, after all, the scourge of Moldavia and if any place can generate a serious scourge, it’s Moldavia.

That was that. One great pic in ’84 that redefined a genre, one mediocre sequel in ’89 that had the scourge of Moldavia and some dancing toasters. As Stantz said in the original ’84 movie, “Funny, us going out like this.”

Flash forward to 2015 and the first hints of a new Ghostbusters movie start cropping up. This is one of those things that we’d been promised since the last millennium, so there was some buzz. Then details started popping up. Well, one detail. There were others, but the only thing people managed to latch onto was the whole “OMG! GIRLS!” element of the movie.

Professional trolls and MRA idiots immediately took the Internet, filled with the vile thoughts of women – WOMEN! – taking on iconic roles and all of sudden that series that ended with dancing toasters and goo that could that feel emotions was THE GREATEST THING EVER MADE and it was going to be ruined by GIRLS – GIRLS! – because REASONS and THINGS.

Okay, so the first trailer pretty much sucked ass. I’m not going to lie here, I saw that first trailer and there were some good moments, but overall it was pretty weak. Still, the cast was solid and it’s kind of hard to screw up a movie about hunting ghosts with nuclear weapons.

So, I saw it today. I went in with high expectations and laughed my ass off for nearly two solid hours. It was funny. It was clever. It had enough in common with the ’84 movie to make it recognizable as a Ghostbusters movie, but it was different enough that it was very much its own movie.

Forget all the bullshit about gender swaps. Four women in the lead roles versus four men in the lead roles. Who cares? People are people and they can either carry the movie or they can’t. Wiig, McCarthy, Jones, and McKinnon carry the movie with ease. They play their roles with enthusiasm and you can tell they’re enjoying themselves. And as well they should; they’ve breathed new life into a beloved movie franchise that desperately needed it. On a side note, Chris Hemsworth shines as the dim-witted Kevin, but it was McKinnon that stole the show as Holtzman. She played the perfect eccentric engineer: equal parts brilliance and madness.

So, throw all that vitriol out and just go see the damned movie. It’s worth your time. If you can’t get over the whole OMG GIRLS! part, that’s fine, but I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing here.

Scrivener, You and I Need to Talk

I’ve been using Scrivener for the better part of the year now. I wrote both Saxton stories in it and started dysRUPT – a sci-fi project I’ve been working on. Overall, I really like the program for writing. It’s got some great features like places to dump research, which was great for all the Navajo words I had to look up, and easy-to-use organization. In fact, all the Saxton stories are currently stored in one Scrivener project. Writing in it is fast and easy. All in all, it’s a great program.

But you know what? Compiling drove me absolutely nuts. Scrivener projects aren’t inherently portable. They can be opened in other copies of Scrivener – and they’ve got a liberal registration process, but you have to compile to get a Word document. That’s not much of a problem. What is a problem is this: You’re supposed to be able to take a project straight to epub or mobi. How freaking cool is that? With Word, I have to load the docx file into Calibre, let Calibre create an epub, and do some tweaking in Sigil, then take the output from that and put it in Kindle Previewer to get the mobi.

Fo shizzle, that’s a lot of steps. It would be awesome to just do my formatting in Scrivener, compile an epub, and take it straight to Amazon’s Kindle Previewer to make a mobi for upload. Or, better yet, go straight to mobi. For the most part, that process works really well, but there’s just one little problem. I can’t seem to figure out how to control where the damned Table of Contents gets placed when I make an epub with the Windows version Scrivener. It just winds up right in front of everything else, which is exactly where I don’t want it to go. Sure, it’s fixable with Sigil, but I was hoping to avoid doing any serious tweaking of the epub.

Before you ask, yes, I did Google it. A lot. I tried multiple ways of compiling and still wound up with a TOC in the wrong place. I even created my own Table of Contents with the appropriate internal links and still got Scrivener’s Table of Contents when I compiled. And it was still in the wrong place. In the end, I compiled to Word, did my formatting there and sent it through Calibre to Sigil to Kindle Previewer.

I know this blog doesn’t get a huge amount of hits, but if anyone has any tips, please drop ’em in the comments. I’d love to be able to use Scrivener all the through the process.

Absolute Violence

What do Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl, and Paul Dehn have in common? Aside from the fact that they’re all writers and/or screenwriters, Fleming, Dahl, and Dehn attended a little known World War II camp known today as Camp X. It was located on the Northwestern shore of Lake Ontario and was put together in early World War II for the sole purpose of training people to go deep into enemy territory and cause as much havoc as possible.

Camp X trained spies, assassins, and saboteurs: people with the necessary skills to drop monkey wrenches into the machineries of wartime Germany. Since not only was an individual’s life on the line, the whole war was on the line, training at Camp X was as realistic as possible. Among other things, live explosives were used with and on trainees.

spy

Not the kind of spy Camp X was training.

While the idea of people being taught to drop into Nazi Germany and really mess things up is fascinating in and of itself, it was the hand-to-hand combat training that I find most fascinating. You have to realize the modern United States military has only recently undertaken a serious martial arts program. During World War II, the hand-to-hand combat largely consisted of simple punching, stabbing with bayonets, and some easy to learn and use throws. MACP (Modern Army Combatives Program) and MCMAP (Marine Corp Martial Arts Program) were still a long way off in the 1940s. Krav Maga was still a twinkle in Imi Lichtenfeld’s eyes, even if he was field testing what would become his system using Nazis as test subjects.

But if you’re going to drop people in Nazi Germany for nefarious purposes, simple punching isn’t going to help them. You need to take all the concepts of fair fighting and throw them away. As Kelly McCann is fond of saying, the fair fight is the one you lose.

So, who was going to teach this new collection of bad asses? That would be a British gentleman by the name of William Fairbairn. If you’ve ever heard of the Sykes-Fairbairn commando knife, he’s that Fairbairn.

sykesfairbairn

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Fits neatly into the base of a skull

William Fairbairn was a scary dude. He learned his trade as a cop in Singapore in the 1930s, fighting Chinese gangsters with a Colt 1911 and his fists. At one point he was stabbed nearly 40 times and left to die in a gutter. He survived and went on to learn as much about fighting as he possibly could. He took the best of what he found and discarded the rest. If he learned something but couldn’t make it work in a fight, it was tossed by the wayside. When he was done, William Fairbairn made Chuck Norris look like a child who had found a copy of Enter the Dragon and tried to imitate Bruce Lee.

Fairbairn was a natural choice to train the new spies and miscreants that were going to be dropped into Nazi Germany. He taught what he called “Gutter Fighting”, a system of relatively easy-to-learn moves that were designed to debilitate or kill an opponent with a minimum of fuss and muss. The techniques were mean, but effective. At a time when most people were looking to boxing and Judo or Jiu-Jitsu, Fairbairn advocated fingers in eyes, punches to the throat, knees to the groin, and so on.

fairbairn1

Even his picture is looking for ways to kill you.

In other words, William Fairbairn advocated fighting dirty. Long before Kelly McCann advised us that the fair fight is the one you lose, Fairbairn was upping the ante on Western hand-to-hand combat by saying, “You either kill or get killed.” And when Fairbairn said it, it wasn’t the tagline for a Charles Bronson movie.

Now, the funny thing is, if you look at what Fairbairn actually taught – and we have a lot of records of it, there are videos of him and he wrote books on the subject – a lot of his techniques are straight out of traditional Japanese and Chinese martial arts.

whitecranekungfu

She’s doing White Crane Kung Fu, if you were wondering.

What makes Fairbairn’s interpretation of the techniques he chose different from what we’re doing today in the martial arts is intent. A lot of modern martial arts students have the sole intent of getting to the next belt. Fairbairn’s intent was to cause maximum damage in a minimum amount of time. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what the traditional martial arts were created to do.

Somewhere along the line a lot of martial artists and martial arts schools forgot what they were doing and decided to focus more on memorizing movements and less on the intent behind those movements. Personally, I blame lawyers. Learning a physical act like fighting is going to result in some damage. I’ve been popped in the nose, kicked in the knee, kneed in the groin, and given myself a wicked huge gash with a katana. Unfortunately, there are people out there who cannot stomach getting hurt and run to a lawyer when it happens. Lawsuits are expensive and have driven many a school out of business.

The end result? Watered down traditional martial arts or straight-up crap. In the martial arts world, we call it Bullshido.

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What Bullshido may look like

So, what’s the solution? Unfortunately that will probably rest with the student as the schools are too worried about being sued out of existence. If you’re planning on taking up a study of fighting, that’s great. Keep at it. Just realize the effectiveness of what you’re learning rests with you. The school can teach you how to do it, but you’re the one that has to actually make it work. That means you have to cultivate a mindset that’s capable of putting your thumb in someone’s eye, punching someone in the throat, or breaking the odd bone here and there..

At Camp X they understood that intent was paramount and trained students to understand that their life could quite literally be on the line in a fight. Once students got to that mindset, everything else flowed naturally into seriously messing the opponent up. Without that intent, everything they were taught would have been useless, which is why I titled this post “absolute violence”. In a fight situation there is no room for holding back. Holding back is what gets people killed.

William Fairbairn understood that and he taught the students at Camp X that same philosophy. And that may have saved more than a few lives.

Links:

A brief video on Fairbairn’s Gutter Fighting

Fairbairn’s Get Tough!

Wikipedia entry on Camp X

Camp X official site

Rex Applegate

William Fairbairn

Defendu

Mark Your Calendars. Saxton is Coming Back

It would figure that the world would collapse right as he was settling in to a quiet life in a quiet town. Wilford Saxton just got a date and donut when a call from an unknown number sends him speeding toward Shiprock, New Mexico. Get there and fix the problem, the caller said, or the girl in Albuquerque dies.

Against his wishes, Wilford is dragged into a game of evil that spans three generations and this time the stakes are dangerously high. If he fails, it won’t just be the girl in Albuquerque that he fought so hard to save getting killed or a handful of people slaughtered horribly. Something is slumbering on Shiprock and if gets loose, the whole Southwest will be doomed to an eternal nightmare.

Armed only with his talking gun and his last two friends in the world, Wilford Saxton is about to walk into a bloodbath as faces the yee naaldlooshii. The skinwalkers are out and no one is safe.

Saxton: Yee Naaldlooshii

Available Friday, July 15th.

©2016, Eric Lahti

©2016, Eric Lahti

Book Review – Brinwood by R.K. Gold

It’s usually a good idea to have a healthy respect for cults of all stripes. They’re like dangerous spiders or guys who feel the need to carry an AK-47 around a Target. You hope they follow the old adage of “you don’t mess with me, I won’t mess with you”, but you know, deep down, that spider will bite you without a second thought and the guy with the gun is just looking for a reason to open fire.

Cults are like all other religions: they want power. The thin line between cult and religion is based on the amount of power they have in relation to the other religions out there. Get enough power and you can be called a bona fide religion, otherwise you’re just a crazy-ass cultist.

The idea behind Brinwood is what happens when one of those little cults that exists in pretty much any town in America actually succeeds in digging its roots in deep enough that it takes over. Usually the other cults or established religions are enough to rip upstarts out by the roots, but this cult was in the right place at the right time and wound up running the town. And by run the town, I mean into the ground.

The story of Brinwood follows what happens after the cult is established to the point that they can kick people out of the town – excommunicate them, if you will – and have no repercussions from those actions. Someone who was excommunicated decides, after seven years, to come back and save his sister and mother from the black widows and guys with guns. There’s just one little problem: his sister and mother don’t want to leave.

What follows is a deep look into the dark heart of faith, an exploration of family, and exactly how far someone will go to save the ones he loves.

Small town cults linger around our communities. They’re hidden among us, picking up believers and working to grow strong, though most remain invisible to us. What would happen if a heavily religious cult took over one of our towns? How much damage would it cause us? Casper is an exile from his home, but when he finds out his brother has died, he returns to save his family from the ravenous followers who have taken over. Returning for his sister and mother, the young man must fight against the brainwashed folks he used to call neighbors. Can he save them? Or will his return cause the demise of the rest of his family? Welcome to the cold walls of Brinwood.

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Get your copy here

Follow R.K. Gold on Twitter

Check out his website