Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reviewing: "Murder Among The Owls: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery" by Bill Crider

Along with collecting a car, Sheriff Dan Rhodes has collected a couple of dogs in the course of his many investigations into crime and death in Blacklin County. Usually, he finds the dogs at crime scenes or in the homes of victims. This time a cat finds him.

An ordinary black cat is waiting at his back door one morning. The cat, wearing a red collar, steps inside as if he owns the place and makes himself at home. Ivy, Dan's wife for several books now, knows the cat is named Sam and lives with Helen Harris a couple of blocks away. About seventy and a former school school teacher, Helen Harris never lets the cat outside even though she is always outside working in the yard and doing other things.

Ivy knows a lot about Helen since she occasionally goes with her to the OWLS meetings at Clearview Library. The Older Women's Literary Society (OWLS) is just one of several groups Helen belongs to. Unfortunately, as Sheriff Rhodes soon finds out, Helen won't be attending the group meetings of anything anymore. Helen is dead in her kitchen and it was murder.

As readers of the series know, Rhodes isn't into forensic science, the internet, technology or anything that is remotely high tech. Instead, he asks questions of folks over and over again until somebody screws up and he catches them in a lie. Such is the story here in the fourteenth novel of this long running series as Rhodes works the case and also tries to find a new home for the cat. After all, he is allergic to them despite Ivy's contention that the allergy he has is only psychological.

With frequent allusions to the previous book in the series "A Mammoth Murder" as well as other cases, those readers who are already familiar with the series to this point will appreciate this novel the most. Several running themes such as the young newspaper reporter and her actions, interplay between Hack and Lawton, and others continue making it best to read the series in order. So too does Bill Crider's wonderful gift of bringing to life the people of Clearview, Texas and surrounding East Texas area in another very interesting story.

Murder Among The Owls: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
Thorndike Press (Thomson Gale)
ISBN #0-7862-9475-2
Hardback—LARGE PRINT Version
363 Pages

This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reviewing: "Stencil Me In" by Marthe Le Van

Stenciling is fun and as the author advocates in this project filled book, anyone can do it. Besides being fun and easy, it is a great way to bring old objects back to life in a new way. After an introduction that gives you the basics of what you need to know such as the types of tools you need, different surfaces and what they will need, along with different ways to stencil, and numerous other helpful nuggets of information, it is on to the projects.

The first project is the "Silver Mist Skirt" (Page 29) that consists of a lily pattern painted on a black skirt originally purchased at a thrift store. Various designs for chairs, tables, dressers, walls and more clothing as well as many other items follow. I especially liked the Mayan designs on glass storage containers (Page 48), the "Serpent Stone" (Page 81) and the "Sea Bath" stencil project for bathroom accessories found on page 96. Color and versatility are important throughout the book as well as creating your own personal design and image.

The book includes seven pages of stencil motifs so that you can photocopy them and transfer the designs, two pages of short biographies on the various designers, a one page index and twenty ready to use stencils in the attached sealed bag.

Designed for fun, this book is sure to be a hit for all ages. With a hardback binding encasing a spiral notebook format, the books lays open flat for ease of use which is also a nice touch. Colorful and bright it provides plenty of textual information and large pictures to help you have fun stenciling.

Stencil Me In
Marthe Le Van
Lark Books (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.)
ISBN# 978-1-60059-252-2
128 Pages

This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reviewing: "Crime Victim's Guide to Justice--3rd Edition" by Mary L. Boland

While being the victim of crime can be dramatized on TV and in the movies, when you or your loved one is the victim in real life it is a far different situation. Not just because so much is depicted incorrectly or factually wrong on television and in the movies, but because the situation is now very personal and can have ramifications in a variety of ways. This book is designed to help readers navigate the labyrinth of the Criminal Justice System.

After a brief introduction covering the contents of the book, Chapter One addresses the topic of "The Victim in The Criminal Justice System." Basic terms such as "Bail Conditions, Preliminary Hearing, Continuances" etc. are briefly defined and explained in relation to victim rights as the case moves through the system. While each state has some variation regarding how it classifies victim rights, Attorney at Law Mary L Boland states that the right to notice of the case and participate, the right to be protected, the right to compensation and restitution, among others are universally accepted in every state in the country.

Of course, the victim as well as the victim's loved ones may be too traumatized by the impact of the crime to be proactively involved. "Getting Help" is the theme of Chapter Two which briefly discusses victim-assistance programs, crisis counseling, and the crime victim advocate among other resources.

Chapter Three provides a layman's view of "Understanding Criminal Law." Types of crimes are defined as are their elements along with the idea that what is classified one way in one state may be classified very differently in another state. Different types of defenses such as entrapment, insanity, etc are also considered along with evidence witness rules.

Chapter Four "The Police" is all about reporting the crime and how law enforcement works a case.

"Charging the Crime" is the theme of Chapter Five which is all about Prosecutors and how they determine what charges to file.

Sometimes "Plea Bargaining" comes up. This topic is covered in Chapter Seven which explains the types of plea bargains and the procedures.

"Criminal Trial" is the theme of Chapter Eight which explains how a trial is done in all aspects.

"After the Trial" is the theme for Chapter Nine which explains how sentencing, imprisonment (various types), probation, etc. all work and how a victim can be part of that process.

Privacy is important and Chapter Ten considers the issue of "Victim Privacy in the Criminal Justice System." The chapter gives a very basic overview of the issue.

Chapter Eleven looks at "Recovering Your Losses" through "Crime Victim Compensation, Restitution and Other Ways" Civil Court is an option which was taken by the Goldman family after the first O. J. Simpson murder trial. Comparisons between criminal court and civil court are made along possible outcomes. There is also a very brief consideration of the O. J. Simpson civil case.

Chapter Twelve further explores the idea in "The Civil Law Suit." After explaining the advantages and disadvantages, the chapter moves into procedures, level of proof, and the basics of a civil suit among other issues.

Lawyers are fundamentally a part of the system and they finally get their own discussion in Chapter Thirteen titled "The Role of Lawyers." How to find a lawyer, select a lawyer and working with your lawyer are all covered.

The book concludes with a sixteen page glossary, a twelve page index of victim resources by state and nation, a four page index of victim rights and various short appendices on how to do legal research, manage the case, and sample forms. A six page index completes the 172 page book along with a one page author bio.

This third edition released last year provides a simplistic catch all overview of the criminal justice system. As such and as noted in the book, things vary tremendously from state to state. While it may assist readers with having an idea regarding the basic terms and general issues, it lacks specifety for a specific state or locality. Chapters are short and have little depth because the book is a general reference and not tied down to any sate or locality and does not consider any issue at depth. Therefore, for folks that have a basic understanding of the system, this legal reference guide will be of little assistance as it is designed and written for people who have no understanding of the system at all.

Crime Victim's Guide to Justice—3rd Edition
Mary L. Boland
Sphinx Publishing (Sourcebooks, Inc.)
ISBN# 1-57248-655-4
172 Pages

This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reviewing: "House Beautiful 500 Makeovers: Great Ideas & Quick Changes"

After an introduction that argues making over a room is not a way of starting over from scratch but instead starting fresh with a focus on your personal taste and what you want the book opens with the theme of "Balance" as Chapter One. Primarily through numerous pictures and small amounts of accompanying text the chapter shows how light and dark colors, old and new things, large and small items, etc, make a room feel in balance. This format with numerous pictures and small amounts of text are used throughout the 480 page book making this mainly a visual book.

"Simplicity" is the idea of Chapter Two which involves cutting down what you have in the room so that the attention is focused on the things you really love and treasure. That can be the spectacular view out the windows which can be further heightened by removing the curtains. Or, it could be the flooring and so you get rid of the rug to showcase the wood or tile floor. As in the previous chapter, this chapter begins with surfaces such as walls and ceilings, moves to floors and cabinets, shifts on to showcase furnishings such as tables and chairs before looking at soft touches such as rugs, curtains, slipcovers and the like. This leads into accents such as certain types of firewood standing vertically in the fireplace, wooden sea horses on the walls, etc.

"Impact" is the idea behind Chapter Three which boils down to having the "wow" factor when others look at the room. The editors suggest painting the panels of a formal fireplace or hanging a salvage door on the wall like art among other possibilities. Again, the same format of surfaces, soft touches, etc is followed as numerous pictures of many different styles are showcased.

Chapter 4 is on "Function" and is designed for "Tricks you can employ to make a room both beautiful and practical."(Page 211) They then go on to suggest readers learn about "scratch resistant stone, durable upholstery fabric, and smart storage solutions."(Page 211) the surface section of the chapter opens with a play room wall that has been covered with chalk board paint so that the kids can write /draw to their hearts content. While that works as far as it goes they include a fragile looking small wicker chair and a beige rug to "hide minor stains." (Page 213) It truly might be the cleanest playroom I have ever seen and durability would be a question.
"Details" is the theme of Chapter Five and all about "… Layering patterns and textures, and taking the time to upgrade those less-than-perfect pieces---whether recovering pillows in gorgeous antique fabric or defining the edge of a cushion with silky fringe (Page 289). They suggest things such as painting a wall as a mural, hand painting stripes on the wall to give it the look of wall paper, etc.

Color has been an issue throughout the whole book and finally Chapter Six devotes a whole chapter to the topic. Not only should you think about the mood you want to create according to the editors, you also want to think about the shades that please you. Consider what you wear, the artwork you like, where you like to visit and combine that with what you want to see in your home.

"Quick Fixes" is the idea behind Chapter Seven. Ideas like a fresh coat of paint, changing out a window frame, picking the perfect item at the flea market, adding plants, are just a few of the many ideas illustrated in this chapter. One striking picture showcases a room with a canted ceiling much like what you would find in an attic space. The owners affixed a world map on the ceiling and ran it down to the floor on the one wall before putting a brown couch in front of it. The look is interesting and can be found on page 423.

Three pages of photography credits and a four page index bring this book to a close.

This a difficult book to review as it is primarily a visual book that you have to see to appreciate. European and Asian influences dominate the book with virtually zero mention of anything Southwestern or Western in design or appearance. The pictures represent beautiful rooms, landscaping and homes that aren't remotely child friendly. Often they don't look people friendly and instead have that showcase sterilized look that prohibits one from imagining any people ever actually living in the spaces. It creates a book dedicated to appearances but not one that embraces people and their lives.

Clearly the book visually represents well a number of different ideas so it lives up to the concept of "Great Ideas" of the subtitle. Though the "Quick Changes" concept might usually not be so quick after all as many of the changes suggested would take considerable time. Then there is the whole issue of the main title. One would expect since the word "makeovers" is used in the title that one would see "before" and "after" photographs. There are simply no "before" pictures in this book. Not a single one. Readers have no idea what anything looked like before the makeover. Or, if there really was a makeover of anything. All we have are numerous beautiful pictures but no indication that anything was ever done or what changes were made at all.

While this book won't work for everyone, it does succeed in its objective of giving readers numerous ideas on how to change their living spaces for the better. It just doesn't illustrate how it was done or at what cost.

House Beautiful 500 Makeovers: Great Ideas & Quick Changes
Editors of House Beautiful
Hearst Books (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.)
ISBN# 978-1-58816-694-4
480 Pages

This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reviewing: "Strong Enough To Die: A Caitlin Strong Novel" by Jon Land

Former Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong plans to work at the "Survivor Center for Victims of Torture" in San Antonio as she attempts to get her life back on track. Her husband, Peter, an electronics expert was recently killed in Iraq. A fifth generation Texas Ranger, Caitlin Strong left the legendary organization in the aftermath of a violent shoot out in the desert outside of El Paso, Texas five years ago. Her life has been pain, chaos and upheaval the last several years and in a way, work at the Survivor Center will allow her to redeem herself and begin again. She needs a mission as she has been drifting through the motions of living but nothing made her more alive than working as a Texas Ranger. She isn't the only one who needs a mission.

Notorious outlaw Cort Wesley Masters, the man Caitlin believes responsible for the violent shoot out and the death of her partner that night, is finally released from prison. He proved he wasn't in the desert that night and while he deserved to go to prison for lots of things, that night wasn't one of them. He wants revenge and heads for San Antonio, Texas to find Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, who put him in prison.

Soon circumstances force the two foes to unite in a quest to investigate the truth about what happened five years ago and the legacy of that night. Back in law enforcement and once more a Texas Ranger, Caitlin has her mission. In a twisting violence filled trail that branches out from Texas to Washington, to the Middle East, and deep into Mexico a romance of sorts begins between the hardened outlaw and the beautiful Texas Ranger with danger and conspiracy as a constant backdrop.

Unfortunately, the book does not live up to its premise or the blurbs on it from many famous authors such as Sandra Brown, Lee Child, David Morrell and others. Billed as a thriller novel, one understands there will be limited character development with the focus on action to drive the story forward. Action is what this book does very well. Action and violence fill much of the book with bad guys by the hundreds involved and Caitlin and Cort virtually invincible despite twenty to one odds in gun battles and worse. Both Caitlin Strong and Cort Wesley Masters can shoot extremely well and are always calm, cool and collected under gunfire. In fact, her grace with a handgun as well as her eyes is what attracts Cort in the first place.

Unlike readers, Cort can remember Caitlin is a woman and in one ludicrous scene, takes full advantage of that fact in a parking garage. The fact that he can remember she is a woman certainly isn't true because of the dialogue. While there is nothing wrong at all with a strong female character, it helps readers if the dialogue occasionally reflects the fact that she is a woman. If that isn't possible, the dialogue should at the very least, have some sort of variety between characters. That isn't the case at all here with the dialogue throughout the book reads the same no matter which character says it. The only difference at any point is that occasionally, a Spanish word is thrown in to remind readers that the speaker is of Hispanic character. The overall result is dialogue that occasionally begins to be funny as everyone seems to have clipped speech patterns that are supposed to convey deep meaning and instead come across as unintentionally funny. This is the kind of dialogue written by people who don't know what real native Texans sound like and got their dialogue ideas from Hollywood. That fact, also with the incredible stiffness of the dialogue in many places, further compounds the stereotypical and one dimensionality of the characters.

Simplistic with stereotypical characters and cartoonish violence which never injures the main two characters despite the liberal use of handguns, machine guns, explosives, rocket propelled grenades, etc. this book will appeal to action junkies who don't want complicated characters, deep plots, or a lot of other stuff to slow down the action. The book pays homage throughout the book to the Texas Rangers while skimming the surface of the topic. This is unfortunate, as the topic, as well as this book, could have been significantly improved by adding some depth to the work.

But, the book will make a great easy to film action movie.

Strong Enough To Die: A Caitlin Strong Novel
Jon Land
Tom Doherty Associates Book (Forge)
May 2009
ISBN# 0-7653-1258-1
352 Pages

ARC for my review was provided to me by way of my membership in the Amazon Vine Program.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reviewing: "The Homeowner's Handbook to Energy Efficiency" by John Krigger and Chris Dorsi

With the way the economy is these days, saving money takes new importance. One of the ways to do that is by making smart choices about energy efficient appliances and making your home more energy efficient. This book, designed for homeowners aims to just that and argues that any home can be improved from an energy standpoint.

After a two page introduction that touts the benefits of making your home more energy efficient, the book opens with the idea that you need to develop an energy use plan for your home. Chapter One discusses the differences between energy consumption and carbon emissions, the energy costs in the building materials, and how both big and small changes/fixes are important. Everything adds up and adding it all up is the key to determining how much energy you are using whether it is electrical, gas, propane or oil. Basic math is illustrated along with a couple of case studies before ten obvious choices are briefly discussed such as installing programmable thermostats, changing appliances, adding insulation, upgrading windows and doors ,etc.

Chapter Two is all about "Lighting and Appliances" and delves into the topic by explaining what the "Energy Star" program really means, different types of lighting, what you can do with appliances up to and including replacing them. Along with the text, there are plenty of small sidebar tips and illustrations.

"Water Heating" is the theme of Chapter Three which explains different basic terms as well as how to adjust your habits as well as your water heater. Along with what to look for if you want to replace your water heater, how to insulate the tank and/or water lines is covered along with replacing shower heads and how to go about creating a solar water heating system.

"Heating and Cooling First Steps" is the title of Chapter Four. The basics of airflow, humidity, temperature, comfort zones, etc is covered along with the uses of programmable thermostats, ceiling fans, natural ventilation and whole house fans. Also mentioned are solar screens, reflective films, Venetian blinds and how to improve your roof reflectivity among other topics. Illustrations in black and white are included in this chapter as well as throughout the book along with various relevant tables.

Chapter Five, "Landscaping" moves the focus to what you can do with plants and trees. Beyond knowing what your general climate is you need to know your own home's personal microclimate. Which side gets afternoon sun, which side gets that bone breaking north wind in winter, etc. Once you know that, they suggest various ways to create shade, wind breaks, etc. Along with explaining the basic tree forms (columnar, pyramidal, spreading, among others) as well as how to plant and mulch the book guides readers as to the types of plants and trees might fit best in your particular microclimate. The book does not make specific tree recommendations at all and instead gives you the tools to consider what type of tree you need or want before heading down to your local nursery or landscape center to talk specifics.

"Finding and Sealing Air Leaks" is the theme of Chapter Six. Finding the leaks and determining how had they are begins the chapter before an explanation of various materials available to seal the leaks. Black and white pictures and illustrations help with the basic as does the text which also looks at various issues in walls, attics, and ductwork.

Chapter Seven delves into "Insulation" using the same format of defining the topic, determining what is needed. Along with tables and helpful information, the black and white illustrations showing the right and wrong way to install insulation and black and white photographs showing different types of insulation in various types of attics.

"Windows and Doors" and what to do about them is the topic of Chapter Eight. They may be the biggest heat and cooling loss from your home as the authors note. After explaining types of windows and window ratings, types of window treatments and if necessary, window replacement they follow the same format in their discussion of doors.

"Cooling Systems" is the theme of Chapter Nine. After cheerfully noting that "air-conditioning
Systems are expensive and environmentally destructive to operate" they suggest various ways to improve the efficiency of your current ac system such as having the system professionally serviced, cleaning the coils, making sure your filters are changed and the system is charged correctly and appropriate for the home. Room ac units also discussed along with the installation and use of an evaporative cooler.

Chapter Ten moves the focus to "Heating Systems" and looks at the same basic issues in the same format. Improving your duct work along with having your system professionally serviced as well as possible replacement systems are key components of this chapter.

"Photovoltaic Systems" such as solar cells, a solar array, etc is the theme of Chapter Eleven. Not every home site is suitable for a solar panel, array or system and this chapter walks you through how to determine if it is a good idea and then how to go about having something installed.

Chapter Twelve has the title of "Moisture Management and Ventilation." Basically, you don’t want mold or mildew in your home and this chapter tells you all the horrible ways moisture (mold/mildew, etc) can wreck your home and how to avoid it, find it if you have it, and deal with it.

Finally, if you are "Building a New Home" then Chapter Thirteen is for you. It discusses various construction and design methods you can use to make sure your new home is the best it can be from an energy use and emission stand point.

A list of various resources, a list of suggested internet keyword topic searches relating to each chapter and a four page index bring this helpful and informative book to a close.

While color pictures and illustrations would have been nice, this 180 page book published last year more than adequately address the topic. Filled with highly technical information simplified but never dumbed down for the reader, plenty of photographs and illustrations, this book provides a guidepost to helping the environment and saving the homeowner money in the long run. Everything in the book is doable by most people and the ideas presented are practical and worthwhile. This might not be the only book you would ever need on the subject, but it is a very good book.

The Homeowners Handbook to Energy Efficiency
John Krigger and Chris Dorsi
Saturn Resource Management
ISBN #1-880120-18-6
180 Pages

This book was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Reviewing: "A Mammoth Murder: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery" by Bill Crider

"Technology, Rhodes thought. He knew there was a good reason he didn't trust it . The Internet was as bad as gossip." ( P. 224)

Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Blacklin County, Texas never has been fond of computers, forensic science, and all the rest of it. When murder happens in the county seat of Clearview or elsewhere in this East Texas County, Rhodes prefers to work the case or cases by the old fashioned way of asking questions. Sooner or later the killer lies once too many times about a point and all the jigsaw puzzle prices finally fit into place. It might not work out the way Rhodes had envisioned earlier while drinking Dr. Pepper and eating peanut butter and cheese crackers in his quiet courthouse office, but he always gets his killer.

This thirteenth novel in the series begins on what appears to be an unrelated story line. For years there have been rumors that Bigfoot roamed the woods of East Texas. An area in the southern part of the county known as the Big Woods is supposedly home to the Bigfoot though no one has ever actually seen one. The six mile area features tall trees and very thick brush and is most definitely the home of feral pigs. It isn't a favorite place of Rhodes as he chased a suspect in there a number of books ago and both he and the suspect ran into a bunch of the wild hogs. Fortunately, the suspect suffered more in that encounter.

Now it looks like he might be going back into those woods. Bud Turley has brought in what appears to be a fossilized tooth that measures seven inches or so long and about three inches wide. Friends Bud Turley and Larry Colley (whose claim to fame is that years ago a UFO abducted him) have been searching the woods for Big Foot. They never have caught it or gotten any proof and now Bud has a tooth which he is sure is proof. A tooth from something but probably not Bigfoot Rhodes believes but, he willing holds it for safe keeping in the evidence locker until Tom Vance, who teaches Biology over at the community college can come by the next day and study it. Tom Vance is also a paleontologist so he should be able to figure out if it is from Bigfoot especially since he also is interested in Bigfoot.

It does seem a little strange that Larry Colley didn't come in with Bud as they have done everything together since they were teenagers. When they weren't out looking for Bigfoot in the Big Woods, chasing aliens, or other odd things, both worked on old engines or just about anything. They also have a history of complaints from their customers about over charges and unorthodox collection methods. Then there were the bar fights over the years with witnesses often withdrawing statements resulting in charges being dropped. So, their reputation isn't very good. That also creates a huge number of suspects when Larry Colley is soon found dead in the Big Woods. It is obvious the feral hogs didn't kill him. Who, or what, did?

Featuring the same cast of recurring characters and folksy writing style that has been the signature of the series, Rhodes once again has to deal with oddball things and murder in the East Texas countryside. Much like what the late Philip R. Craig did so well with his Martha Vineyard series, Bill Crider does with the people and lifestyle of small town East Texas. With a steady way of doing business, Rhodes works the cases and the people to figure out who done the killing and why. There aren't any new character developments and at this point in the series, readers don't expect any. Instead, as expected, this book provides another glimpse in the ongoing lives of the central characters along with another twisting mystery. The result is another good novel in a quality series.

A Mammoth Murder: A Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press)
ISBN# 0-312-32387-5
263 Pages

This material was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Reviewing: "eBay Power Seller Secrets" by Debra and Brad Schepp (2nd Edition)

This second edition published in 2008 aims to educate readers on how to become a PowerSeller which is primarily defined as someone whose sales are more than $1000 a month and has at least a 98 percent favorable rating. Based on interviews with many PowerSellers, this book is not a primer how to start selling on eBay. Written by two self proclaimed PowerSellers the book does not present anything negative about eBay. It is strictly an advice book, written from their perspective, about how great the site is and how you too can become one of the select few, the PowerSellers.

That is the plan as detailed in the introduction which follows the preface that states the same ideas in a different way and an acknowledgment section which thanks numerous people for their invaluable contributions to this 388 page book. The introduction goes into more about what the book is about if you haven't figured that out by the title as well as the numerous blurb ads all over the cover. They also explain that being PowerSellers qualified the authors to ask questions of other PowerSellers.

Chapter One "Know your Business / Grow your Business" begins the book in the standard format of these type of books by making sure the reader understands the work commitment and job qualities needed to succeed. Not only do you need to have time commitment and personality to make the venture work, you need to know what the criteria is to be a Power Seller as well as the tools and resources on eBay to grow and support your market place. Various options and tools are covered as well as the idea that, at least in the beginning, you need to know the products you are selling. Repeatedly stressed is the idea that along with selling your merchandise, you are selling your reputation from day one so don't break the law, don't sell items that present problems, (such as food) and start small because you are in for the long haul.

"Source Products for Success" is the title and the theme of Chapter Two. Beyond getting a sales tax id number, the authors explain various ways of obtaining product inventory to sell. Researching inventory to sell is going to take up a lot of time as is actually acquiring the inventory whether you do it online or through local moving sales, garage sales, etc.

Sales growth is a theme in every chapter and that certainly is the case in Chapter Three "From Mom and Pop to PowerShop." With recommendations on the hardware and technology you need to support your business and inventory, to accounting software, to web hosting and photography needed, to simple things like digital scales and a phone line, the authors make numerous suggestions and recommendations . Much of this you may already have, but the chapter will also get you to think of new ways to use what you have and determine what you need to get.

Now that you have spent the first one pages getting things going, it is now time to "Automate Your Auctions for Smooth Selling" otherwise known as Chapter Four. A major point of an internet business is for it to make sales while you are sleeping or engaged in doing other things. To do that you need auction management software. The authors explain what such software is, what it does and how to get started using these valuable tools by showcasing a number of vendors and their products.

"Get Your Auctions Going!" is the title of Chapter Five which is all about making sure your customers see you and not a faceless store. Let a little of your personality (within reason" show on your "About Me" page, make your selling rules positive and non scolding, and spend time and money making your listings sell for you. Don't be too cute, be clean and neat and know the right product for the right category along with the above tips is just part of what this chapter is about.

Chapter Six is about how to "Power-Charge Your eBay Business." They suggest marketing by way of e-mail, a monthly newsletter, and rewarding returning customers along with numerous other ideas to protect your sales and your growing business. Putting the business to work for you by increasing sales is the theme of this chapter as well as the book and the authors also suggest other avenues of growth beyond your core business.

"Close the Auction and Collect the Cash" is Chapter Seven and they point out the obvious fact that a sale isn't made until you have money in hand. Various payment options with a main focus on Pay Pal (part of eBay) are covered. Along with tips on how to sell internationally while avoiding scams, spoofs, and phishing. Selling online can result in problems of various types with some customers and this chapter suggests ways to deal with some of those problems.

Chapter Eight "You Sold It, Now Ship It" points out the obvious fact that as a seller, you have to deliver the product. Along with suggestions on how to package and ship items, they suggest various shipping options and how to accomplish this in the most efficient and cheapest manner possible.

"Your Customer Is Always Right (Even When He's Wrong)" is the theme of Chapter Nine. Anyone who has ever sold anything online or worked in retail (I did for over twenty years) know that some people simply can't be helped. With an eBay business, e-mails are going to be the primary source of contact and they must be clear, concise and detailed for all parties. Examples of e-mails regarding various situations as well as basic customer service concepts are covered along with how to deal with customer service issues and feedback on eBay.

Chapter 10 is "Keeping Records – or Let's Have a Look at Those Books, Buddy." Keeping good records is vitally important and this chapter tells you how to do so and where to get info. This chapter gives a little advice on the subject but like any book, things are subject to change so you will want to contact a tax pro who is up to date on the rules and regulations.

"From eBay Seller to e-Merchant" also known as Chapter Eleven makes a few more suggestions on how to start small and grow your business before briefly comparing Amazon market place to eBay. As expected, the authors think Amazon needs work and ignore other auction sites in the marketplace.

Along with a brief thumbnail sketch of a Power Seller at the end of each chapter that functions more as an ad for the seller/eBay and not a real interview or analysis with depth, and an eight page index, this easy to read and understand book delivers on the intentions stated in the beginning. Filled with tips to grow your business, the read will help those who already are familiar with eBay and have the time to invest in the project though much of the information is rather obvious and there aren't any real special secrets in the book. Written with an obvious agenda in mind, the book doesn't offer a contrary point of view as to the merits and realistic issues with eBay nor did it intend to. Instead, like any wealth building guide, it shows you how to make money pushing a product such as vitamins, cosmetics, or in this case, eBay.

eBay Power Seller Secrets—2nd Edition
Debra Schepp and Brad Schepp
McGraw Hill
ISBN# 978-0-07-149816-6
388 Pages

This book was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reviewing: "Small Crimes" by Dave Zeltserman

Those who know Dave Zeltserman's writing, either through the now closed and very much missed Hardluck Stories e-zine (shut down due to Dave's increasing success as a novelist with Pariah due out in October and Killer out next January among other projects and a movie deal) or his novel work, know that Dave Zeltserman looks at things from a dark point of view. That certainly is the case here in Small Crimes.

Former cop Joe Denton has spent the last seven years of his life in the county jail for a crime he most certainly did commit. Sentenced to sixteen to twenty-four years for arson, attempted murder, and maiming a district attorney strings were pulled to keep him at the local county jail. Released, Joe Denton will return home to Bradley, Vermont. He has lost his wife and daughters, a twelve year career in law enforcement, and has very limited prospects. Nobody in the area, including his parents whom he will be staying with at the start of his parole, wants him around.

Certainly not the maimed district attorney whose face was stabbed 13 times by Joe in an attack that has left Phil Coakley virtually unrecognizable as human. Dan Pleasant, Sheriff of Bradley County, doesn't want Joe around either because Joe could lead investigators to Dan's own corruption. Then there is Manny Vessey and his son who are the local mafia crime bosses and they don't want Joe around. While everyone involved, except for Phil, is graceful Joe kept his mouth shut during his incarceration, they don't trust him to continue to do so and his being around serves as a constant reminder of the past and those secrets.

Before he leaves town, and everyone has made it clear to him that he should, Sheriff Dan Pleasant wants Joe to complete one final job. Manny is dying in a local hospital because of terminal cancer. Phil Coakley visits every single day using the bible and salvation as leverage in a hope to get Manny to confess to all he knows. Manny isn't the hard edged man he once was and facing death closing in on him just might start talking. That could send everyone around, including Joe, to prison and worse. So, Sheriff Pleasant wants either Manny killed or Joe can finish the job on Phil and put him out of his misery. Killing either one solves the problem as the Sheriff is concerned and he doesn't care which one dies.

Joe cares and figures there has to be a way of solving the issue without doing more damage let alone killing anyone. Joe came out promising to keep to the straight and narrow for himself as well as an attempt to correct the past as best he could and get his family back. But, Sheriff Pleasant isn't the only one putting pressure on Joe Denton to go back on his plans and do what needs to be done by any means necessary. The problems rain down upon him and the pressure mounts as Joe fights to make things finally right.

As in Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts Dave Zeltserman takes a flawed narrator who could be anyone and puts him in an everyday situation that could fit most people. Then, he ratchets up the pressure on all involved. Like the author's other novels, this novel is primarily a character study of one man, who isn't totally aware of himself and his actions, coping as best as he can against a myriad of forces stacked against him. The question to the end is whether or not he can save anyone- including himself.

Those looking for cartoonish violence with plenty of rapid fire car chases and the like will be disappointed in this read. Those who prefer their books to be realistic and more cerebral will find much to like in a book that inevitably will draw comparisons with works written by other authors. And while those points of reference may be there along with other things that are subject to reader interpretation including the ending, there is no doubt that Dave Zeltserman has crafted a noir mystery thriller that pulls readers deep into a violent claustrophobic world while providing one heck of a good read.

Small Crimes
Dave Zeltserman
Serpent's Tale
ISBN# 978-1-85242-971-3
Paperback (also available in eBook and audio formats)
263 Pages

Book provided by the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mini Review: "Pools And Spas"

With a subtitle of "everything you need to know to design and landscape a pool" this recent release from Sunset Books attempts to be the one guide you will ever need. It does the job very well depicting pools and spas to dream of where money is not an issue. Along with beautiful pictures of pools and spas in fantastic landscaped settings, it provides plenty of practical and detailed advice to help the homeowner in every stage of the process. From planning your pool or spa in term of cost, location, equipment and other factors such as design and use, to construction and maintenance, this 240 page book covers the subject and all its many possibilities.

Pools And Spas
Curtis Rist, Vicky Webster, and the Editors of Sunset Books
Sunset Books
January 2008
ISBN #0-376-01611-6
240 Pages

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reviewing: "It Happened One Knife: A Double Feature Mystery" by Jeffrey Cohen

It has been four months since patrons darkened the comedy tonight movie theater in New Jersey. The balcony has been fixed, the snacks are in a new display case, there are new seats in the theater and all is right with the world. In fact, Elliot Freed, owner and occasional investigator, is allowing his projectionist to screen his violent western "Killin' Time."

Elliot made a promise and Anthony did his part so the movie is playing to a large crowd. A movie that Elliot pretty much doesn't like and not just because it isn't a comedy. Despite Eliot's opinion and probably because it is excessively violent and graphic, the movie is a sure hit according to the rep for the comedy film distributor.

"'It’s got blood!' Vic held up a finger. 'It's got cursing.' Another finger. 'Killing, sex, cruelty, character's nobody could like.' Finger, finger, finger, thumb on the other hand. It can't miss.'" (Page 4)

Vic wants the movie and plans to work a deal with a studio for Anthony and take a piece of the money a long the way. The idea that this gruesome movie could be a hit appalls Elliot who is a fan of the classic comedy. Almost as appalling is the fact that when Anthony's one print of the film turns up missing minutes later, Anthony accuses Elliot of taking it over jealousy and a need to keep Anthony in his place. Something a number of other folks seem to believe as well.

That storyline becomes secondary to the main point of the book which is Elliot's opportunity to show as part of his double feature the legendary comedy movie "Cracked Ice." Starring a famous comedy team of Harry Lillis and Les Townes who ruled the mid 1950's to early 1960's, the movie is a personal favorite of Elliot's. Even better, Vic knows where Harry Lillis is living these days and that location isn't too far away giving Elliot a chance to meet one of his idols and have him come to the theater.

The problem with idols is that too often they are merely mortal men with feet of clay. The image on screen is far different than the reality and before long Elliot finds himself in a multi decade's old murder case involving the comedic duo. A case that, while it was hushed up back in the powerful movie studio days, once again may cause more death.

And if that isn't enough, Sharon, Elliot's ex-wife, just might want to get back together again.

Released last July, this sequel to the comedic mystery "Some Like It Hot Buttered" brings everyone back for another mystery that contains elements of humor and romance. Elliot Freed has a sarcastic streak that comes out under pressure and frequently comes out once this slow to get going novel moves into gear.

The mysteries are secondary to the character relationships which have driven both books. Family is important and that means much more than simple blood connections. For Elliot Freed, just about everyone involved in his life on a steady basis is family and his bike just might be as well.

Filled with references to comedy movies and other trivia, Jeff Cohen has created another enjoyable tale of romance, crime and comedy. It may not split your sides with laughter, like the Aaron Tucker series frequently will, but you will get plenty of chuckles along the way.

It Happened One Knife: A Double Feature Mystery
Jeffrey Cohen
Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin Group)
July 2008
ISBN# 978-0-425-22256-0
296 Pages

This book was provided by the Allen Public Library of Allen, Texas by way of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Reviewing: "Murder in Four Parts: A Dan Rhodes Mystery" by Bill Crider

Like many of us, Sheriff Dan Rhodes knows he really can't sing and doesn't need some guy on a certain TV show to tell him. As a sheriff, Dan Rhodes is asked to join just about every group in Blacklin County. Most of the invitations he declines and he has every intention of declining the current invitation to join the barbershop chorus. Hack, the dispatcher, counsels otherwise and points out that it would help come election time.

The next election is more than a year out so Rhodes isn't worried about that. Elections are a sore spot with Rhodes anyway and he is more than a little tired of folks threatening him with their vote if he doesn't do things the way they want. Something that happens soon enough in the latest in the series along with a death.

Maybe the director of the barbershop chorus, Lyold Berry, wasn't interested in Rhodes singing. Maybe Lloyd Berry was hoping that if Rhodes joined the chorus, Berry would have some protection. Certainly his floral shop wasn't safe as that was where he was found dead behind the counter with his head bashed in. Proably due to the heavy metal wrench next to the body. Solving the case requires Rhodes full attention, but the frequent sightings of a naked man outside the local attorney's office, the chicken eating alligator, and a host of other things will fight for attention as well. That, and the constant reminders, like the drumbeat of the approaching storm, of the fact that the next election is coming.

On one end of the spectrum, you have Joe Landsale and his vision of East Texas. A vision of a landscape frequently populated by human beings full of violence, guile and twisted character. In his work there is a sense of the gothic coupled with a living breathing evil that many graphically and willingly embrace.

At the other end, you have the Dan Rhodes series by Bill Crider. A vision of East Texas where most are hardworking honest folks trying to do the right thing. A vision where occasionally, somebody slips up and kills somebody, but they never really meant to do it. It just happened and usually the victim bears some responsibility for his or her demise. And Rhodes just keeps asking questions until he catches the killer in one lie too many.

While both visions of East Texas have a lot of truth in them, Crider is doing for East Texas what Philip Craig did for Martha's Vineyard and Steven F. Havill has done for Posadas County, New Mexico. Unlike Havill who changed his series several novels ago by making his signature sheriff Bill Gastner nothing more than a minor player, Crider has kept Rhodes front and center in a series that consistently delivers a good read. You can't ask for more than that.

Murder in Four Parts: A Dan Rhodes Mystery
Bill Crider
Thomas Dunne Books/Minotaur (St. Martin's Publishing Group)
February 2009
ISBN# 0-312-38674-0
279 Pages

This book was provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Library System. According to budget projections recently reported in the local media, the library system is facing over a million dollars in cuts for the new fiscal year. These are tough times for libraries as those making the budgets often look to libraries to cut even though traffic is usually at record levels. Support your local library.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Reviewing: "The Fourth Time Is Murder: A Posadas County Mystery" by Bill Crider

It takes the body a long time to heal when you nearly die. For Undersheriff Estelle Reyes–Guzman, the violence that nearly killed her happened over a year ago and she still isn't back to normal. She is working again, but she feels it from time to time in ways she never felt it before. The fatality on Regal Pass not only reminds her of how fragile life is but how her body is still not healed.

Psychologically, she isn't healed either. Something the dead man doesn't care about as he lays crumpled in the wreckage of his truck. Hundreds of feet down the mountainside the wreckage is difficult to get to in daylight and late at night with mist and cold closing in the San Cristobal Mountains it is extremely dangerous. Obviously the man is dead and the wreckage has been down the cliff strewn among the rocks and boulders for while.

But, somebody else has been there. It isn't just the fact that various identifying items that should be in the truck aren't there in the shattered hulk or strewn around the area. Amidst the beer cans and debris of what is left of the truck, the victim has part of a shoe print on his hand. Somebody stepped on his hand. Since it wasn't any of the rescuers it means it was either a witness or a murderer.

The latest in the series finds Estelle juggling issues with her family, a national reporter determined to write a profile of her for a woman's magazine, and a murder. The conflict between her role as a parent and her job continues as well as a growing realization that her family is moving towards a different future that may or may not be what she ever wanted. That concept which is growing stronger in every book since Bill Gastner was eased off the main stage is a huge theme here along with the idea that the border, like the vein of life, is as thin ribbon easily crossed by good and evil alike.

Once again, Steven F. Havill brings Posadas County and its people to like in a series that fundamentally changed several novels ago. While it hasn't been the same since Bill Gastner was moved to the role of a secondary character, Estelle Guezman more than holds her own in this novel that delivers a strong storyline, plenty of action, and depth to the read. This simply might be the best book he has written since the switch in the series and I suspect it will be nominated for many awards.

The Fourth Time Is Murder: A Posadas County Mystery
Steven F. Havill
Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Minotaur)
November 2008
ISBN# 0-312-38063-1
311 Pages

This material was received from the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2009

Friday, April 03, 2009

Mini Book Review: "Water Garden Idea Book" by Lee Anne White

Part of the "Taunton Home" series of landscape design books this 170 page book is a visual treat as well as a highly informative. Designed for all climates which includes us Texans with our frequent drought conditions, this book surveys the vast array of water features available today. Opening with easy to create basins and fountains, before tackling harder subjects such as "Naturalistic Ponds And Streams" and "Architectural Waterworks" the material showcases just about every option conceivable through large color photographs and easy to read text. Along the way there are tips about controlling algae, dealing with mosquitoes (a serious threat due to West Nile), winterizing your fountain or water feature, among a host of other issues. This colorful and highly useful book includes a list of resources (books, supplies, organizations, etc) and an index.

Water Garden Idea Book
Lee Anne White
The Taunton Press
ISBN # 978-1-56158-877-0

Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009