A Princess’s Tale

Iron Blood: 300 Years of the Dmitri Kantemir DynastyIron Blood: 300 Years of the Dmitri Kantemir Dynasty by Princess Eleonora Borisovna Kantemir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dmitri Kantemir was an 18th century Moldavian prince who was aligned with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The duplicitous Ottomans demanded increasingly usurious tribute, so Kantemir decided to join with Peter the Great of Russia to vanquish the treacherous Mohammedans. Unfortunately they lost. The Kantemirs were forced to flee to Russia where Peter declared Dmitri a Russian prince and bestowed a lavish estate, including 70,000 serfs, upon him. Not bad for losing the battle.

Iron Blood, which is what Kantemir means, is an interesting historical fiction told from the perspective of a descendant who went on a lengthy quest to discover the truth of her ancestry. Princess Eleonora Borisovna Kantemir’s father was a member of the anti-Communist resistance and was captured by the Germans during World War II. Eleonora was born in Germany, but the family moved to Connecticut in the fifties when she was a young girl. Her father lived his life looking over his shoulder for the KGB.

This is a fascinating story, unfortunately, the writing is rather poor. I heard the princess speak to the California Writers’ Club. Her English is flawless, but it did not transfer to Iron Blood very well. If I were Ms. Kantemir, I’d shoot my editor.

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Really Chaotic

The Chaos of ChangeThe Chaos of Change by J.T. Riggen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The US federal government is dysfunctional. (What else is new?) Separatist groups form in New England, the Deep South, Minnesota, the West, and on the Texas-Louisiana border there is a strange thing called the Independent Nation of Milam. Former president, Richard Jackson, has twin sons, Andrew and Thaddeus. Richard is the leader of the Southern Territory, he is suffering from cancer, and he has a right wing agenda. Thaddeus is a liberal who runs away to Alaska where he lives off the grid as a survivalist. The former director of the CIA launches something called Broken Protocol, which prompts the recall of Agent Lozen Kyway from France. She is dispatched to Alaska to guard Thaddeus and take him to the Federal North Pole, which is the splinter group in Minnesota. The Federal North Pole is big into a mysterious alternate energy source and some strange device everyone has to wear on their wrists. The Southern Territory is determined to take Washington DC. The New North is determined to stop them. The Federal North Pole wants Thaddeus to be their diplomat in negotiating an alignment with the New North. We don’t know anything about the Independent Nation of Milam or the western region.

The Chaos of Change is the first book in a trilogy. In the opinion of this reader, each installment of a series should be a stand-alone story. Chaos ends in chaos with no satisfying conclusion. The plot in general is rather disjointed. Many things happen that apparently do nothing to advance the story. We never learned what the function is of the wrist devices in the Federal North Pole, and their new energy source has a byproduct that is some kind of high-tech club, which seems pointless because everybody else has guns and rocket launchers. The prose is solid enough. J.T. Riggin uses some unusual word pairings that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, like ‘dipping’ into a stairwell. The characters are well enough developed, but some of them aren’t particularly likeable. In a story of this sort, one would expect there to be an agenda—support of liberalism or conservatism—but I couldn’t determine which way it leans. Maybe it doesn’t lean. I couldn’t be sure of that either. I dislike leaving unfavorable reviews, and I would not write this one if I weren’t obligated by the rules of the Rave Review Book Club to write reviews of members’ books. I hope Mr. Riggen can be philosophical about this.

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Phoenix artist brings Arizona wonders to life in her studio

I went to school with Marsha a few eons ago and have only reconnected with her recently. She’s a great painter.

AZ Wonders

I meet so many interesting people in my travels around Arizona that I’ve come to expect it. However, I would have never expected to meet an award-winning artist at the trailhead in my own neighborhood.

As I was wrapping up a wonderful 6-mile hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, I exchanged pleasantries with Marsha LAZAR Klinger who was finishing her hike at the same time. We agreed on what perfect weather we were having and how beautiful it was that day. She mentioned she had sketched a few images while on her hike and I asked to see them.

I often find it challenging to capture with a camera the real beauty of the sights I see out on the trail, so I was amazed at what she had been able to portray with a pencil and a small pad. We chatted for a few blocks as we walked toward…

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A Man for the Ages

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An illegitimate, homosexual, left-handed, genius who could also paint. That describes Leonardo in broad strokes. He pitched himself to patrons as a military engineer, hydrologist, architect, and city planner. Painting was an afterthought. Ultimately, he supported and amused himself as a designer of stage sets. At various times he was patronized by a Medici, a Borgia, and a pope. He was notorious for accepting commissions, then never finishing them. He hauled the Mona Lisa around with him for fourteen years and died without delivering it to Lisa’s husband who commissioned it. To perfect his ability to paint figures with precision, he dissected dozens of human cadavers, horses, and the odd pig, which he vivisected to study the beating of the heart. He made numerous discoveries that were centuries ahead of their time, including the function of heart valves, the function of the retina, and the lift mechanism of birds’ wings. Perhaps the most bizarre study on which he embarked was to learn the nature of a woodpecker’s tongue. He wore foppish clothes of outlandish colors, kept pretty boys, and practiced vegetarianism. The scholarly journals that he prepared ran to thousands of pages, but he never published anything.

Walter Isaacson, who previously wrote biographies of Steve Jobs and Einstein, obviously travelled the world to research da Vinci. His credentials gained him access to remarkably arcane bits of information on this unique character from the time of Columbus. Isaacson delves into the quest for lost masterpieces, the intricacies of Leonardo’s genius, and workings of his studios, where students often contributed to his paintings and churned endless copies of them. This book is perhaps a little long and occasionally dense with detail, but it is the end all and be all of Leonardo da Vinci.

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FBI Good or Evil

FBI

In the light of the #ReleaseTheMemo flap, Congressmen, reporters, and news anchors trip over their tongues to venerate the FBI while accusing its leadership of corruption. They repeat, “The vast majority of FBI agents are loyal hardworking Americans.” Fine, but to whom are they loyal? One thing an FBI agent does extremely well is follow orders.

 

The FBI was founded in 1935 by Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat, with the assistance of its first director, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover remained director for thirty-seven years because he collected damaging files on Americans, especially politicians and dissidents.

 

The following is a taken from Wikipedia:

 

Later in life and after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive abuses of power began to surface. He was found to have exceeded the jurisdiction of the FBI, and to have used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods. Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten sitting presidents.

 

Wikipedia also quotes Harry Truman:

 

… we want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him. —Harry S. Truman

 

Even Richard Nixon was afraid to fire Hoover. He was the original untouchable.

 

Hoover did not personally place wiretaps or steal personal information, rank-and-file FBI agents did—those same hardworking, loyal Americans who the contemporary pundits set on a pedestal. It is not my intention to paint today’s FBI agents with the Hoover era brush, but I would call your attention to the inescapable fact that from 2008 to 2017, FBI recruiters must surely have had an overarching liberal agenda. The FBI’s attrition and new hire rates are apparently classified, but in nine years it would not be hard to imagine a significant ideological shift.

 

Robert Mueller served as director of the FBI from 2001 until 2013, longer than anyone except J. Edgar Hoover. Mueller was criticized by George Bush, who nominated him, and Dick Chaney for failing to incarcerate terrorists in the US. Obama extended his term by two years. Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director, and Mueller and Comey are personal friends. Those are the facts, and I draw no conclusion from them. However, it is abundantly clear that Comey lied to Congress and to the public. Mueller interviewed Comey, and thus far, Comey has not been indicted, whereas Flynn has for the same crime.

 

In conclusion, I see no need to blindly glorify the FBI. History shows that FBI agents are perfectly capable of corruption. The most frequent failing of politicians, and people in general, is to ignore history. It always repeats itself.

Who Are This Guy’s Readers

The President's Daughter (Donovan Creed)The President’s Daughter by John Locke

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hitman, Donovan Creed, finds the billion dollars in his Swiss bank account missing, and his wife tries to kill him. To add insult to injury, a mobster offers him $1500 to kill a dog that bit him. Eventually, the president’s chief of staff offers him eight million to kidnap president’s daughter. Well, a guy has to make a living, so he takes the job, only to discover that this has been in works for years, and a veritable troop of look-alikes and body doubles are on the government’s payroll. Creed’s overly complex plan evaporates when the president’s daughter voluntarily lets herself be kidnapped.

Okay, it’s a silly story. Now, I’m not one to criticize a silly story. I may have been guilty of writing one or two myself. The President’s Daughter, however, is a bit much. Creed and his partner, Callie, have sex with and kill everyone they meet. The body count is astronomical, and I only recall disposing of two bodies, yet no one seems too concerned to arrest them. The wackiness aside, this book has some issues that don’t appeal to me. It bounces back and forth from past tense to present tense, and it shifts viewpoints from first person narration by the main character to third person narration by unimportant characters. It has its bright moments and a few flashes of humor. Mr. Locke is not shy about claiming some pretty impressive credentials, including million-seller status. This is apparently true. That worries me about the nature of the reading public, but I can’t fault his success.

For $.99 I was willing to give it a try. It’s now $2.99, but if you feel inclined, here’s the link:

Buy at Smashwords

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