Friday, March 1, 2019

About: The Beginner’s Guide to Winning an Election


In The Beginner’s Guide to Winning an Election by Michael French, the year is 2025. The United States is afflicted with global cyber-attacks, economic crashes, foreign wars, and lots of anxiety. State budgets for public schools are hit hard. In a student body president race in a small city Indiana high school, popular, charismatic Matthew has his own consultants, bloggers, oppo researchers, and funds from an unidentified source that have helped him win every election since ninth grade.
 
Over-achieving, introverted Britain is a novice to elections, but as a history wonk, politics fascinate her. She also has a crush on Matthew. After she joins his SBP team, someone hacks Matthew’s website, leaking stories that the candidate is far from the Eagle Scout he pretends to be. Matthew and his team of 15 call the stories “spineless lies.” Britain is stunned when she’s scapegoated by Matthew as the mystery hacker. Kids dump on her for betraying the school leader. Her reputation in shreds, she decides to enter the presidential race to clear her name. No one gives the novice a chance, but that only makes Britain more determined to find a way to win.     
 
With the help of her three good friends, “No more secrets” becomes Team Britain’s slogan. For a while she stumbles in her campaign, until the anonymous hacker begins leaving notes in Britain’s locker, telling her which rocks to look under if she wants to beat odds-on favorite Matthew. She puzzles over who exactly is helping her—her favorite history teacher, an apostate on Team Matthew, or one of the many “undecideds” that impact any election? Every mystery solved leads Brit to face a more complicated challenge, some threatening her existence…

About the Author: Michael R. French graduated from Stanford University where he was an English major, focusing on creative writing, and studied under Wallace Stegner. He received a Master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He later served in the United States Army before marrying Patricia Goodkind, an educator and entrepreneur, and starting a family. In addition to publishing over twenty titles, including award-winning young adult fiction, adult fiction, biographies ad self-help books, he has written or co-written a half-dozen screenplays, including Intersection, which has won awards in over twenty film festivals. French’s work, which includes several best-sellers, has been warmly reviewed in the New York Times and been honored with a number of literary prizes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Book Review: I, Claudia


I, Claudia: A Novel of the Ancient World by Lin Wilder is the story of Claudia Procula and Lucius Pontius Pilate. A Tribune at 28, after success in battle in Germania, Lucius Pontius Pilate was appointed Prelate of Judea, to rule over the Jews. They were considered to be a fractious, unruly people that answered only to a god who’d given them very specific rules of behaviour, diet and morality. A troublesome bunch, they fought among themselves in various factions, united only against a common enemy: Rome. Judea was a powder keg of trouble and the least spark could set it off. Not only that, a troublemaker called the Baptizer was turning people’s minds and a prophet called Jesus of Nazareth was drawing crowds with his talk of spiritual matters. This is the background for a wonderful love story between Claudia Procula, intelligent and well-educated daughter of the last of the Oracles of Pythia, and Lucius Pontius Pilate, a Roman soldier and hero.

History has defined the real Lucius Pontius Pilate as being the man who allowed Jesus to be crucified. However, the truth of the matter is that the situation was alarmingly more complex and volatile. Caught between the rock of the Sanhedrin and the hard place of Rome’s authority, Pilate was unable to deal with the festering political and religious issues of the time. Compromise was the only answer. And was that compromise somehow all part of God’s grand plan, even if it entailed the sacrifice of His only son? Such interesting questions are raised here that will intrigue both Christian readers and those of other faiths. Reading this story brings to life a tale well known to many Bible students.

The author cleverly incorporates enough ancient historical detail into the narrative to inform the reader while maintaining the flow of the story. The dramatic unfolding of events is told in short alternating chapters between Claudia and Lucius, and in this way, her maturing and the development of her powers as an oracle, and both of them falling in love with each other come across beautifully. Their emotional love story is set against the backdrop of a tumultuous chain of events which we see as both Claudia and Lucius are affected by the man people called the Messiah. Quotes from Cicero, Seneca, Plato, Socrates and other renowned writers and thinkers of the ancient world add extra food for thought and give insight into the mindset of the characters.

The pace is measured and in line with historical events. The region and the era saw its fair share of political turbulence and I liked how the author conveyed this throughout the narrative. The descriptions also evoke vivid imagery of the past, the setting, and social customs and behavior. This is a well-written and researched story that will satisfy fans of historical fiction as well as romance. The story itself encompasses themes and ideas which go far deeper than a review can adequately portray. Being a fan of ancient and biblical history, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author includes an afterword and a bibliography, both of which I found enlightening and useful.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Book Review: Before Long


Before Long: Sheer Romance of Finding a Home by Auralee Arkinsly relates the house hunting endeavours by a couple, Ernst and Esme, who find their perfect home with all the characteristics that they have dreamed of (a house with an orchard in the country) only to find their dream becomes a nightmare. Undeterred, they move and find a place in the city, but the gritty reality of city life is off-putting. Again, undeterred, they move… and so the story unfolds with each dream home and location turning into disaster, expenses, and disillusionment… Orchards unfortunately do attract fruit flies and roosters think it is their duty to wake the world up at 4 a.m. Will they ever find their perfect dream home? Does a perfect dream home even exist in the real world?

What an absolutely hilarious and charming story. I loved the format of photos of the various houses and settings and captions. Like many readers, I have bought and sold and moved a few times. I nodded and shook my head reading about the couple’s antics, new decisions, bad decisions, hopes and dreams so easily destroyed. The bills and repairs, the things you only find out after living in a place for a while are so true to life. No one tells you about the winters, the bad parts, the potential problems, and even the neighbourhoods themselves that can seem picture perfect at the start.

The beauty of this deceptively simple book is that at the end of their litany of disastrous choices, Ernst and Esme had learned significant lessons about the kind of home that would be right for them, what they needed (such as a stable internet), the kind of ‘tribe’ they would like to socialize with, how to integrate a balance of work and play, and how to budget for those inevitable home ownership expenses. Plus, they learned – as one hopes readers will – that having dreams is great, but not dreams that only exist in movies. They also learned that although the perfect dream home might not exist, with a bit of creative thinking, they could make a ‘nearly there’ home into something that suited them perfectly! Some lovely and relevant lessons for readers who might just be house hunting right now.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Book Review: Finding Myself in Borneo


Finding Myself In Borneo is a colorful memoir with a difference! The book is described as author Neill McKee's honest and buoyant chronicle of a young Canadian man's adventures during 1968-70, while teaching secondary school as a CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas) volunteer in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo). But it is much more than that for any reader. Neill relates with detailed, vivid descriptions his ups and down with the various cultural, social, and political markers of the era that readers will recognize.

However, for me, this is less a memoir and more of an immersive adventure for the reader who might be interested in memoirs but is also bitten by the travel bug and the desire to explore foreign climes and cultures. Neill has a descriptive style of writing that is quite wonderful. He is able to insert into the narrative an enormous amount of information about the country, the climate, the cuisine, the culture, and the mindset of the people without overwhelming the reader. The writing could be described as cinematic as I certainly found myself absorbed in the narrative and was able to visualize the colorful details especially with the inclusion of photos in the text.

Neill is totally honest about his experiences, ranging from learning to teach in a totally foreign environment to learning about life in general and indeed learning about love in particular. His interpretations of the people and religion, politics and culture come from a positive and open mind, and a willingness to embrace a new ethos. The years of his stay in the region were punctuated with disruption and danger at times, clashes between various groups and political rumblings. This was the dark side of the seemingly paradisiac environment in which he felt he’d initially arrived. Interestingly, his time in Borneo sparked his enthusiasm for movie making and an adventure taken as a young man resulted in a career and a life of travel and exploration.

One of the most charming features of this book was the discovery that North Borneo is, indeed, J.R.R. Tolkien's famed Middle-Earth of The Lord of the Rings! He and his American Peace Corps buddy, Peter Ragan, established the North Borneo Frodo Society, an organization Tolkien joined. What an honor! Interestingly, Neill was able to match up various elements of the story with the landscape, including the discovery of Mount Doom! A history of the NBFS is found at the end of the book. I liked the references at the close of the book for readers interested in learning more about the region and its history. There is also a detailed bibliography. A brief history of North Borneo as an end note puts the location into historical and political context. A glossary of Malay words and expressions is also included.

About the Author: Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. McKee, who holds a B.A. Degree from the University of Calgary and a Masters in Communication from Florida State University, lived and worked internationally for 45 years and became an expert in communication for social change. He directed and produced of a number of award-winning documentary films/videos and multi-media initiatives and authored numerous articles and books on development communication. During his international career, McKee worked for Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, UNICEF, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; Academy for Educational Development, Washington, D.C. and FHI 360, Washington, D.C. He worked and lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda and Russia for a total of 18 years and traveled to over 80 countries on short-term assignments.