Mensa Page Turners americanmensa.org Archive

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Page Turners – October, 2015

 

I’ve had some questions from authors about my process. A new book submission form will be available on line soon. At any given time, I have 40 to 50 books (44 this month) waiting for review, so some will get reviews, some will get mentions. I hope to at least mention every book I receive at some point. As long as I have that much of a backlog, though, I will only consider books written or edited by Mensans (that is, the name of the Mensan appears on the front cover).

I don’t read on screen, I don’t print books, and I don’t order them on line. You’ll have to send me an actual copy, not just a reference. Several authors have sent me printed copies of their original manuscripts. That’s okay, if the book has been published and you just don’t happen to have a copy available.

I write my reviews six weeks in advance of publication, so at the very best, it will be two months before you might see something in the column. Hope for the best and I will too.

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41UiXI2e-GL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_About one third of the books I receive are fiction. A novel that stood out this month is Left Field by Elizabeth Sims. It’s the fifth in a series of books about Lillian Byrd, an amateur detective. Probably the first thing you’ll need to know about Lillian is that she’s a lesbian, as are many of the characters in the book. These women are long past dealing with the problems of coming out of the closet though, so there’s little time spent on that issue. It’s just a murder mystery.

That being said, there are some love scenes that border on being a little more graphic than I care for, but “everyone to his own taste, said the old lady as she kissed the cow.” They’re not what the book was about, though.

Lillian freelances, taking on projects that appeal to her. While she’s on the roof of an employer’s house, she spots a body in the next yard. The victim, Abby, turns out to be a friend of a friend and a player on an amateur softball team. Lillian is soon up to her eyebrows in softball and clues. As with many good mysteries, you may think you know what’s going on, but you’ll be surprised over and over. I like a lot of the characters in this book besides Lillian, especially Lou. She’s a city animal control officer and so much more. And speaking of the city, it’s Detroit, and it’s as much a character in this book as the assorted people.

I enjoyed this enough to look for the other four in the series. Sims has written a second series of books, The Rita Farmer Mysteries, and a book on writing that I’ll review in coming months. Her website is www.elizabethsims.com.

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512szEClPfL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_           We all have our guilty pleasures, and mine this month is “Saltiest Sailor” & Other Sketches: More Memories and Musings from a Life of Adventure by Corwin A. Bell. His first book was Sea Story. This is Bell’s second book of short essays, 37 in all, many of them autobiographical and most previously published in the San Diego Mensan. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you I have lunch with him once a week at a Mensa gathering.

Al is definitely not one to hide his light under a bushel. He has strong opinions about practically everything. He’ll tell you that human evolution may actually be human devolution, and that we really ought to invade Canada for our own good and theirs. You’ll also hear how proselytizers fared in trying to save his atheist soul. You won’t necessarily agree with much of what he writes—he is, by his own account, somewhat of a curmudgeon—but it is entertaining. As Al says, if you don’t agree with what he says, you can always write your own book, but you can’t do that until you read this one.

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41vJgQ7HZuL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Only Read the Fine Print: And Other Things I Hope My Children Learn Sooner Than I Did by Thomas Briggs is a useful book. It’s the kind of book that as I read, I found myself saying over and over, “Oh, yes, that’s true.” It’s comprehensible, I think, by someone as young as an intelligent middle-schooler, and as he or she gains life experience, it will become even more meaningful.

Only 87 pages, it’s packed with ideas that support Briggs’s three basic premises: The point of life is to be happy; live in the present; and have no regrets. After Briggs establishes those three basic ideas, he follows up with chapters re. thoughts on excellence, money, practical advice, perspectives on reality, and words of wisdom. He closes the book with a list of suggested further reading.

My overall take on this book is that it’s a valuable guide for dealing with reality. These really are lessons we all wish we had learned earlier. I liked the book enough that I think I’ll buy copies for my grandchildren.

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411EmPTXHSL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_            So here’s my bias. Even though I use computers many hours a day, I’m old enough that I still think that teaching should be done by live human beings. Even that can be deadly dull. I had one memorable professor who did nothing but read from his text book, which we all had to buy, for 50 minutes three times a week.

This book, Lecture is not Dead: Ten Tips for Delivering Dynamic Lectures in the College Classroom by Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is written for those teachers who want to upgrade their skills a little. Another short book, actually a booklet of 24 pages, it lists the ten commandments of dynamic lecturing. Without banning all multimedia from the classroom, Lorenzetti reminds teachers of the basic steps in leading students to a new understanding of the material of the course. It might be summarized as: tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you told them, but there are a lot more subtleties than that. A useful book.

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517AJOdRVzL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_ is another useful book if you’re in that situation. So often we hear stories of children who have been thrust into the middle of a war between the parents. The old truism is that the parents are divorcing each other, not the children, but it’s often forgotten and children get the fallout.

Patrick Kennedy is the former chapter President of the Children’s Rights Council for Orange County and Long Beach. The CRC is an organization working to optimize co-parenting. He speaks with authority on the many problems that can arise and on possible solutions that benefit the child and ultimately the parents. His writing is clear, concise, and practical.

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61WESXy9ZYL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_            Since I’m writing about useful books, I have one more for you: Read Better! For Adults and Teens written by Linda Schrock Taylor and edited by Connie Geiger Norwood. Taylor writes that this book is intended for adults and teens “struggling to learn English at levels of greater skill.” The first third of the book covers the technical aspects of reading, including phonemes, phonics, phonograms, and six types of syllables. The remaining two thirds includes short practice stories and questions testing comprehension of what was just read.

The back of the book tells us that Taylor and Norwood together have more than 80 years of teaching experience at all levels from preschool through college. They want to make reading English “easier and more rewarding.” This is a good book to consider if that’s your goal.

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And here are some books I won’t get a chance to review. Thanks to the authors of the following novels. The Slave Laborer by Albert W. Hanne, the story of a World War II American pilot shot down over Germany who survives by masquerading as a Polish slave laborer. Whisper Hollow by Chris Cander follows the romantic lives and misadventures of two immigrant women in early 20th century West Virginia coal country. The Journals of Thomas P. Cross by John D. Schutt is about what happens to a man when he assumes another man’s identity. Waiting for the Red Cow by Gerard Brooker is the third of a trilogy about Tyszka and Sarah, who meet at Auschwitz and live to participate in the establishment of Israel.

Nonfiction books I won’t get a chance to review are Counterintuitive Analysis by Stephen J. Schrader; Toward Utopia: Feminist Dystopian Writing and Religious Fundamentalism by Naomi R Mercer; The Vedanta Sutras: the Mafia Version by Andrew A. Kenny, a follow up to his previous book Chicago’s Gods; and two books by Sarah Condor Fisher, My America and Diet and Nutrition with a Special Focus on Swimming and Bodybuilding.

To follow up, you can read more about these books on line.

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Page Turners – September 2015

 

Here I am again. They didn’t fire me yet. You can keep on sending your books to me at the address below. Be sure to include the submission form.

You’ll learn, as you read this column every month, that I’m a sucker for a good police procedural or mystery. I have two this month that fit in that category, and one of them is nonfiction.

51p8c2bcLzL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Canine Search and Rescue: Follow a Bloodhound’s Training and Actual Casework by Keith M. Pigg is fascinating. I’m also a sucker for dogs, and other that the Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn (not a Mensan, but fun and interesting) this is about as good as it gets.

Pigg purchased nine-week-old Cleopatra and spent three years training her and many years after that doing search and rescue work with her. There is so much more to this process than I ever imagined, and what little I thought I knew about bloodhounds was wrong.

Pigg says he is not a writer, but he certainly presents a fascinating view of how man and dog combine to form an effective team, each with their responsibilities defined. They have to learn to communicate in subtle ways. If there is a lot of anthropomorphizing here, ascribing thoughts and emotions to Cleo, I don’t think he was too far off in his analysis, because their team worked, in both senses of the word. You can’t argue with success.

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Page Turners – Mensa Bulletin August 2015

 

As I settle into this job, I’m trying to clarify my criteria for books I will review. The first criterion is easy. I intend to give preference to Mensa authors. Secondly, I’m looking for quality of writing. As I said in my first review, there’s a lot of good writing out there, both commercially published and self-published. But there’s also some bad writing. It’s sad when someone goes to all the work and expense of publishing without having done proper editing. I’ve received several books like that. They had good bones, but that’s all. They won’t get reviewed. For those of you who are thinking of publishing, the best investment you can make is money in a good editor and/or time in a good read and critique group.

Finally, there are some genres I just don’t want to read. The two that come immediately to mind are any books that feature graphic violence and anything about the Nazis. I just don’t want those images in my mind. And yes, I will discuss this with you if you have a book that might fall in one of those two categories.

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Page Turners – Mensa Bulletin July 2015

I teach creative writing. My students are working on memoirs, novels, poetry, new age spiritualism, history, children’s stories, and a variety of other topics. All of them, but especially the novelists, have the problem of knowing where to start. Novelists have to figure out how much of their character’s backstory should be included and where. It’s not unusual for authors to complete their first draft and choose to or be advised to dump the first few chapters. I not too long ago read my first—and probably last—book by a certain bestselling author. The first 100 plus pages were the story of how the protagonist became a private detective and how he met the person he later hired to be his secretary. That story had no relevance to the mystery when it finally began.

The authors of the first two novels I’ve included in this review wrestled with that problem and lost, in my opinion, but if you choose to read these two books, persevere. They’re worth it.

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Page Turners – June 2015

Hello to my readers. I’m your new Page Turners editor. Many thanks to Tom Elliott, who did such a good job for so many years. I’m going to try to follow his good lead.

You may be curious about what qualifies me to be a reviewer. I think the only true qualifications are that I have opinions and I’m willing to write them down. Besides that, I’ve written book reviews for 13 years for the San Diego Horticultural Society newsletter. (If any of you are writing books about gardening or farming, send ’em along. You may get a double review.) In addition to reviewing, I write books. I have two published with my writing partner, Richard Lederer: American Trivia and American Trivia Quiz Book. I also have four novels in the drawer, waiting to be discovered. Finally, I teach creative writing to senior citizens, which is a lot more fun than you might guess.

Back to Mensa, this is an interesting job. In the last three months, since Tom wrote his last column, I have received 44 books for review. Among the 44 are12 novels, 3 acrostic books, 3 books of poetry, 2 cartoon collections, 3 memoirs, and assorted nonfiction, some of general interest and some highly technical.

Although I can’t review that many in one month, I’m astonished and delighted that so many Mensans are such good writers.

One Mensan has told me that I shouldn’t review anything that’s self-published. I disagree. There are many reasons to self-publish besides the old cliché about vanity, and a lot of quality books are being done that way. So send me anything. I make no guarantees, but I’ll do my best.

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