The Life We Bury is a compelling read

The Life We BuryJoe Talbert has never met his father; his mother is a bipolar alcoholic; and his younger brother is autistic. Joe works two part-time jobs to save money while attending a community college. He escapes his troubles by transferring as a junior to the University, which is two hours away.

Joe’s first English class assignment is to write a biography of a stranger. He decides the best place to start is at a nursing home, where he meets Carl Iverson—a dying Vietnam veteran and convicted murderer. As Joe spends time with Carl, he starts questioning the events that led to Carl’s conviction.

With the help of his neighbor, Lila, Joe looks into the trial transcripts and photos of the crime scene. Before long, he’s as interested in finding the real killer and getting the conviction overturned as he is in getting Carl’s biography written. Lila and Joe track down clues and people from the trial while weaving their way through the legal system, but time is running out for Carl, whose health is deteriorating rapidly.

As Joe and Lila try to uncover the truth, Joe struggles with his mother’s illness and guilt over leaving his brother in her care. Constantly being called back into the family drama that he’s fought so hard to leave behind, Joe realizes he may eventually have to give up his dreams of a college degree for his brother’s sake. But, his determination to clear Carl before the man dies puts Joe’s life, as well as his education, at risk.

Kudos and five stars to Allen Eskens for this intriguing debut, a combination coming-of-age and murder mystery. The complex characters are well-developed, and their paths to redemption, along with twists and turns, makes this a compelling read to the end.

FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publisher.

Ebola Scareware: don’t get taken in

14-026CDCEbolaEbola’s all the rage. Not because we want it to be, but because it scares the hell out of people. It triggers fear, an emotion scammers love to prey on. Let’s look at the facts before getting into the tips.

The disease

• Ebola symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite, and abnormal bleeding.

• Symptoms can appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure, but most commonly occur on days 8-10.

• In the US, Ebola is spread through body fluids. In other countries, the disease can also be spread by eating contaminated bush meat or plums eaten by bats that carry the disease.

• People who do not show symptoms are not contagious, but those symptoms can feel a lot like a cold or the flu.

The cures

  • At this time, there are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent Ebola.
  • Any “cures” are still experimental, which means they’re in development. This means there aren’t any approved vaccines, drugs or products that can be purchased online or in stores.

The scams

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Am I a medical expert? No. Do I know absolutely, 100%, for sure that there is no Ebola cure? That there is no super-secret stockpile of Ebola vaccines? No. Do I know that there are scammers ready to take advantage of people who suffer from the “You’ve Got to Believe” syndrome? Oh, boy, do I. So, here are five practical tips to avoid what I call Ebola Scareware.

  1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unless your mother was a computer hacker or a con artist, she should have taught you that lesson. Otherwise, she might have said, “If it sounds too good to be true, honey, raise the price.”
  2. Slick-looking is not the same as legitimate. There are huge numbers of phishing websites designed to convince unsuspecting visitors to give up their personal information or money. Scammers use slick videos, infographics, references, and more to make their sites as convincing as a legitimate site. So, don’t be fooled just because something looks convincing.
  3. Don’t let fear run your life. I often hear from people who think it’s okay to give up a few dollars in hopes that a miracle cure will work. Their philosophy is, if it doesn’t work, so what? The problem is, this funds the operations of the scammers and during any crisis, the scammers ramp up their operations for one simple reason: during a crisis, consumers make decisions based on emotion, not the facts.
  4. All natural is not always safe. A common email and internet claim is something to the effect of, “the medical profession doesn’t want you to know about this simple cure!” Hint: there’s usually a reason for that. Just because a remedy is touted as all natural, does not mean that it works or is safe, has been tested, or even contains the ingredients it claims to contain. Claims that the medical profession is deliberately burying a cure for something as serious as Ebola are a sure sign that someone’s hiding something—and I’d bet it’s not your doctor.
  5. The only miracle will be if you’re not being taken. Most of us will never need a cure for, or medication to prevent us from contracting, Ebola. But, if you think you have Ebola symptoms or need preventative medication, call your doctor. I’m pretty sure a medical professional will have more experience in treating serious diseases than the guy behind the emails flooding our inboxes or the websites cropping up like .

Ka Lae – past to present

Drawing of priests traveling across Kealakekua Bay (near Kona on the left side of the Big Island in the map). Drawing by John Webber.

Drawing of priests traveling across Kealakekua Bay (near Kona on the left side of the Big Island in the map). Drawing by John Webber.

From its windswept rolling hills to rocky cliffs, from the days of the first Polynesian visitors to today’s thrill seekers, Ka Lae, or South Point, has been through massive changes. Today, Ka Lae is a popular destination for adventure seekers and those who want to boast that they’ve been to the southernmost point in the US. I hope you enjoy the slideshow for this little tour of Ka Lae, past to present. The images included here are mostly in the public domain, but attributions are provided where appropriate.

Hawaiʻi is at the northernmost point of the Polynesian Triangle, which includes Easter Island (2) on the lower eastern corner and New Zealand (3) at the lower western corner. Depending upon which expert you listen to, settlement began as early as the 3rd century.

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In 1779, Captain James Cook and the crew of the Resolution “discovered” Hawaii. Cook actually visited Kauai first, then worked his way South. According to the Historical Background of South Point from the Bishop Museum, Cook’s journal of January 5, 1779 included the following.

This part of the coast is sheltered from the reigning winds but we could find no bottom  to Anchor upon, a line of 160 fathoms did not reach it at the distance of half a mile from the shore. Towards the evening all the islanders leaving us, we ran a few miles down the coast and there spent the night standing off and on (Cook/Beaglehole, 1967:487)

Cook’s visit set the stage for a massive depopulation of the islands beginning around 1800. Opinions as to the why the islands were hit so hard by pestilence vary, but by the mid 1800s, the population had been reduced to less than half of what it was when the Resolution made that fateful discovery.

Hint: you can manually advance through the slides by placing your mouse over the slideshow and clicking the pause button.

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Is the first 21st Century book here?

Endgame by James FreyInternational bestselling author James Frey was in San Diego on October 15 to promote his new project, “Endgame: The Calling.” For this interview, Frey said that what he’s trying to accomplish in this new project is to marry technology with traditional storytelling to create “the first 21st Century book.”

“First and foremost,” said Frey, “Endgame is a book that tells a story like any other book. Hopefully, people will read it and love it and get excited by it. The book has a puzzle written into it and readers can just read the book and love the book or they can choose to engage the puzzle and try to solve it. The first person to solve the puzzle will receive a key that opens a case at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas with $500,000 of gold in it.”

Frey said this project was inspired by “Masquerade,” which was written by Kit Williams. Frey read “Masquerade” when he was ten-years-old and, like many others, holds fond memories of that experience. He said, “It was a book that I loved that I thought was awesome and that somehow became more than a book to me. It made me go back and read it over and over again. It got me excited about it, and it was fun and cool and weird and thrilling.”

There were also other factors Frey said influenced the project. “It was also inspired by ancient alien theory and conspiracy theories related to secret societies and the brotherhood of the snake.” As with any creative project, there are critics on both sides of the fence. Some have compared “Endgame” to “Hunger Games,” others claim it’s exactly the opposite. Frey feels that most of those comparisons came out before the reviewers had a chance to actually read “Endgame.”

“I wanted to write a book that we could put a puzzle into it and have a contest,” said Frey. “But, I also wanted to tell an awesome story that I thought was cool and exciting and fresh. I mean, people who’ve actually read the book know it’s not at all like Hunger Games except for the name with the word “game” in each of the titles.”

Should “Endgame” be compared to an interactive book? Frey doesn’t think so. “I think that’s a dirty word. I’m trying to make a 21st Century book. A book that uses technology to enhance it and make it better.”

There are several ways Frey said technology is being used to deepen the reader’s experience. For instance, readers can follow the Twitter feeds for characters, send messages and receive a response, and view videos on YouTube. Frey said, “It’s deepening the experience for the reader. It’s deepening the story. You can see what this person’s life is like outside of the book. You can read the book and never look at any of this stuff. But, if you want to look at this stuff, it’s all there for you.”

“Endgame” is, in a sense, taking a range of communication methods and bringing them together into a single project. The possibilities for this blending of methodologies excites Frey. “I don’t think anybody knows where it’s going to go, but we all know it’s going somewhere. There have been a few early-stage attempts to do stuff like what I’m trying to do, but nobody really knows where it’s going to be or where it’s going to go.”

Frey also said this is not just a new way of packaging an interactive book, a technology that was not readily embraced by consumers. “They haven’t worked,” said Frey. “They’re just not that exciting. People still want a traditional reading experience where they sit down and read, whether that’s a physical book or Kindle a Nook or an iPad. But, I think people are going to find out ways to enhance the story. Ways similar to what we’re doing.”

Fitting all of the pieces together, and making them all available worldwide on a single day was a very complex project. Frey said, “When you’re trying to do something nobody’s ever done before, you don’t have a model to follow. You have to invent your own.” Those issues included everything from the creative process of designing the “Endgame” world to convincing Google to participate to the logistics of distribution.

Creating a puzzle with a $500,000 prize that is bound to attract many players is much like walking a tightrope. Frey said, “We had to build a puzzle that we thought was guessable for readers and that would get them stoked and excited, but we had to make it a puzzle we thought was difficult enough to last more than a couple of days.”

“I think we’re doing something really exciting and fresh and new,” said Frey. “I think the future [of books] is a version of what we’re doing here. We’re just the first to do it.  I hope readers will give it a chance. I think we have a great story. Great characters. And an amazing puzzle if you choose to engage it. If not, just a fun book, a super-fun read.”

Chief Craddock returns in new small-town police procedural

Dead Broke in Jarrett CreekSamuel Craddock is back, pulled out of retirement as Chief of Police, when the town of Jarrett Creek goes bankrupt. The town’s full-time police officers walk out when they hear there’s no money for paychecks, leaving Chief Craddock with a couple of part-time officers and a murder to solve.

Chief Craddock decides the first course of action is to interview all the people who were at the town meeting the night Gary Dellmore, the town’s bank manager, was killed. With each interview the list of motives and suspects grows. The Chief soon learns that Dellmore had numerous affairs during his marriage, a history of making bad business decisions, and had received a kickback from the loan he made for the water park deal which caused the town’s bankruptcy. With the citizens of Jarrett Creek angry over the town’s financial situation and plenty of blame to go around, Chief Craddock is kept busy sorting through hidden agendas to get to the truth.

As pieces of the puzzle start falling into place, Chief Craddock discovers there is more than one crime to solve. In order to find out who killed Dellmore, the Chief will have to unscramble the rest of the clues.

In this third Samuel Craddock Mystery, Shames follows a familiar formula, that of Chief Craddock working his way through a long list of suspects. Fans who enjoy a slower pace in their mysteries will find this an enjoyable read as the Chief interviews well-developed characters and even encounters a few surprises along the way. Without gratuitous sex or violence, this series provides a small-town feel to the police procedural genre.

FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publisher.

Tips to avoid the newspaper and magazine subscription scam

This copy of a faked Cincinnati newspaper subscription came from a BBB.org email. Image credit: cincinnatti.com

This copy of a faked Cincinnati newspaper subscription came from a BBB.org email. Image credit: cincinnatti.com

Believe it or not, there are still a lot of people who subscribe to the good, old-fashioned newspaper. In fact, there are so many who still subscribe that the scammers have taken notice. Meet the fake newspaper renewal notification as a way to rip people off. Not sure how a newspaper or magazine subscription could turn into a lucrative scam? Read on.

You receive a subscription renewal notice in the mail from a company with a name you don’t recognize. Let’s call that company Readers Payment Service, since that’s one of the many known aliases for this scam.

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The mailed notice advises you that your subscription is ready for renewal and provides a one-year renewal rate along and a multi-year rate. If you’re not paying attention, you might miss the clues: the subscription dates don’t match your records, the amount of the renewal is higher than normal, the payment is to be sent to an address that might be out of state. Maybe there are even typos in the renewal notice.

In a subscription-renewal scam, the senders of that notification are hoping you won’t notice any of these elements. They’re counting on the fact that most subscription renewals are handled well in advance. This means the scammer is hoping you’ll mail a check or money order right away so he can cash in and move on before you even know you’ve been taken.

These payment services go by many names, anything from Billing Services of America to National Magazine Services to United Publishers Services with many others in between. The bottom line is that you simply cannot memorize the full list, but you can protect yourself by asking four simple questions.

  • Has your renewal rate gone up unexpectedly?
  • Is the renewal notice from the same company you subscribed with?
  • Has the renewal address changed?
  • Do the renewal dates and other information match your subscription exactly?

If you think you’re being scammed, contact the newspaper or magazine directly. Do not use the contact information on the notice, since that will simply get you more bad information.

Friday Fotos—Cultural Festival at Volcanos National Park

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Most likely, you have not had the opportunity to see the Cultural Festival held at Volcanos National Park each year. These photos are from the 2013 event, but they are timeless. Also, mahalo to the National Park Service at nps.gov for hosting a Hawaii Volcanos National Park page. If you want to see all of the 46 photos posted for the event, click here to visit the event page.

The philosophy behind the festival is expressed on the National Park Service web page dedicated to this event:

Ka ‘ike o ke keiki – The learning of the child:
i ka nana a ‘ike – by observing, one learns;
i ka ho‘olohe no a maopopo – in listening, one commits to memory;
i ka hana no a ‘ike – by practice, one masters the skill.

I hope you enjoy these photos. We have not had the good fortune to be able to visit during this event, but it would be so much fun to visit in mid July and be able to attend a future festival. Also, we should all say thanks to Park Ranger & Visual Information Specialist Jay Robinson for these fabulous photos!

 

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Behind the story of Treasure Coast with Tom Kakonis

Treasure CoastTom Kakonis has been called the “master of the low-life novel.” It’s a title that seems oddly out-of-place for a former university professor, but one Kakonis enjoys. For this interview, the author of seven novels discussed how he earned that title, his background as a writer, and a tragic event that triggered the idea for his latest release from Brash Books, “Treasure Coast.”

“When I was a student at the U. of Iowa Writers Workshop, about a thousand years ago,” said Kakonis, “we were encouraged to write what might be categorized as ‘serious’ fiction. That is, stories with sensitive heroes forever taking their own psychic pulses or battered by sweeping forces outside their control.”

Kakonis classified that training as very practical and useful, but feels it distanced the students from the real world. “The danger of a literary education for the aspiring writer is the acquisition of an attitude of remote superiority over the crass real world. It’s an attitude often fostered by such an education. For two decades I tried to write what I thought, and had been taught, was literary fiction, and nobody wanted to read it.” Kakonis said he has the unpublished novels to prove his point.

“Once I accepted the hard truth that I had no great and profound thoughts to deliver through the medium of my work,” said Kakonis, “I turned to the perhaps less noble but vastly more entertaining realm of commercial fiction. I found a publisher on my first outing and never looked back.” Kakonis has been writing books for pure entertainment ever since.

Although Kakonis says his life has only been “moderately interesting,” during the Korean War he worked on a radar system designed to protect North America called the Distant Early Warning Line, spent time doing hard manual labor on a railroad section crew, and spent a few post-army years engaged in pool hall and beach hustling. In a convoluted way, all of those experiences led him to understand how to write a “low-life” novel.

In addition to his time in the army and working on a railroad crew, Kakonis had one more experience that prepared him to write truly colorful language. He said, “Perhaps most useful of all for fiction writing was a year spent teaching inmates at Stateville Prison in Joliet, Illinois.  In these and other similar settings I was exposed to the vernacular of clusters of men absent the civilizing influence of females, so I had a share of the dialogue for such characters handed to me like a gift.”

Oddly enough, while his narrative was influenced by men, the impetus for “Treasure Coast” came from his sister. Kakonis said, “Many years ago my older sister was diagnosed with a virulent strain of cancer.  Miraculously, she managed to survive for almost twenty years before it caught up to her. The final days of her life were spent in a Mayo Clinic hospital bed, and I spent many of those difficult days in a bumbling attempt to comfort her.”

Kakonis added that during those final days, he absorbed much of went on around him in the hospital. He said that for many years after his sister’s death, he still recalled “the acrid odors, perpetual noisy bustle, and often poignant scenes.” He added, “When I sat down to write what would become ’Treasure Coast,’ those sensory images surfaced to form the core of the opening scene: a central character in a similar deathwatch over an expiring sister.”

“The completed fictional scene sparked the onset of a narrative,” said Kakonis. “I had a couple of characters, uncle and nephew; a potential conflict on the horizon; a setting in  West Palm Beach; and a then murky female character. I had the nucleus of a story, so I was off and running.” As Kakonis wrote, he realized he did not want stereotypical characters and took steps to solve that problem.

In “Treasure Coast,” Junior Biggs is one of the main antagonists. Kakonis said, “He’s the most despicable of villains, but he still plans to use part of the money he hopes to come by with their big score to buy a proper headstone for his mother’s grave.”

Kakonis hopes the use of incongruities adds a comedic element to the narrative. Another example is when kidnapper Hector Pasadena submits meekly to the instructions of the kidnap victim herself and helps with the house cleaning and cooking chores. Kakonis said, “Juxtaposing such comic scenes with those of brutal violence helps me create the atmosphere of ambiguity I’m striving for in both narrative and characterization.”

For more information

Tom Kakonis does not have a website, but you can learn more about his on the Brash Books website at http://mysterythrillerbooks.com/author/tom-kakonis/.

Review of new Jane Ryland thriller Truth Be Told

Truth Be ToldOne of my biggest complaints with writers is what I call wishy-washy writing. I’m always saying, “Write boldly.” Well, to be blunt, there ain’t no wishy-washy writing in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s new Jane Ryland novel. Here’s my review.

“Truth Be Told” begins with the eviction of a family from their home. Reporter Jane Ryland is covering foreclosure when she realizes there are many more such cases. As Jane digs into the issue of foreclosures, she discovers another, bigger problem, mortgage fraud. But, this fraud is being committed by someone inside the bank.

Boston police detective Jake Brogan’s latest investigation should be bringing him great satisfaction because the killer has confessed to a twenty-year-old case that haunted his police-commissioner father. But, Jake doesn’t believe the confession. In fact, he’s sure the man in custody is confessing to a murder he didn’t commit. The question in Jake’s mind is, why?

As Jane’s investigation into the mortgage fraud continues, she begins to suspect a connection between the foreclosed homes and recent murders. But, her relationship with Jake is under serious pressure from her new boss and the attorney of Jake’s confessed killer, who finds her very attractive.

Ryan has undertaken a huge task with her third Jane Ryland novel, weaving together separate plot lines about mortgage fraud, murder, and false confessions. The seemingly unrelated plot lines are eventually brought together even as Ryan maintains the tension throughout the book.

Characters are under continual pressure by external forces as well as their own decisions. Once the momentum begins, it seems there is little they can do but see the game through to its conclusion.

Deft timing of scene beginnings and endings helps maintain the pace of this novel. This, however, can be a double-edged sword in a novel with multiple points of view because the reader can feel momentarily disoriented by a fast scene break to a new point of view without immediate orientation. Without a doubt, this is an award-winning author showing how to write boldly.

FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publisher.

 

Three tips to protect your online security

EyeOnYouOctober is Cyber Security Awareness Month, so McKenna’s written a letter to the scammers of the world with just a few simple requests. Personally, I think he’s been smoking that pakalolo again.

Dear Scammers:

Today, I received well over a hundred of your emailed love notes. Honestly, I wish I weren’t so popular with you. I know you won’t stop sending those virtual cards and letters, but I do have a few simple requests.

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I would like to know that I could trust the wi-fi networks I use. But, with all your fancy spyware, malware, and viruses, you’ve made that very difficult. Thankfully, I’m in the habit of using only networks I know. I keep telling my friends to be careful out there, but some still haven’t gotten the message. Even though I know you won’t stop trying to spy on us while we’re using public wi-fi, would you consider a warning on your fake wi-fi network? Perhaps something as simple as, “Here be scammers” would be very nice.

People also like to trust the USB and other accessories they receive from people they know, but maybe you could start a campaign to let everyone on your email lists know how unsafe USB devices can be. After all, you might consider USB devices as competition for your email campaigns, so wouldn’t it benefit you in the long run to help your mail recipients know about this important problem?

That whole attack you pulled off on the Apple software was pretty slick. Of course, Apple jumped on the vulnerability right away and updated the software to block you. I just wanted you to know that I really try to keep my software up-to-date so I’m less vulnerable to your advances. I do wish others would do the same so we could all stay one step ahead.

In any case, I know you’ll be back. I feel kind of like you’re trying to coerce me into an unwanted office romance, but I know I’d never respect myself in the morning if I let it happen. So, in celebration of October being Cyber Security Awareness Month, I’m going to keep my guard up and do what I can to keep us apart. I’m sure you understand and feel the same way about your computer equipment.

No best wishes,

McKenna