Near Death / Near Life


By Dennis Maulsby


Once again, I caution everyone to please not send me requests for poetry. I will turn them down. This is one of those very rare instances where I was intrigued by this man’s work and decided to give it a shot.


This book is a collection of poems and haiku. Many deal with war and most of those center on Vietnam. The non-war selections deal with…well, life. Beauty, women, the little idiosyncrasies we can look at and admire, or be amused by. There is a nice mixture of death and life poetry and not all of the death shows in the war poems.

I thought the mixture well presented. Too much of either would be a drag or depressing. Granted, the war poems are not happy go lucky, but it’s understandable. War in the real world isn’t fun.


The only character in this book is the author himself. His ideas. His thoughts. His personality. His daydreams. His memories. His view of certain moments in history, of life.


It’s poetry folks, not conversation. However..

Poetry IS dialogue in a sense and lest you think I dive too deep, just think about it for a moment. Or two. The author speaks to us in his words, his phraseology, his thoughts on paper. He speaks to us and we either listen or put down the book and go to something else.

Sure, there are pieces of quotation. In some of the poems somebody speaks. These times fit with the individual poem.


What can I say? I’m not a huge fan of poetry. I took a poetry class in college only because I liked the professor and understood/enjoyed very few poems that we read.

I don’t ‘get’ poetry, let alone haiku. I think trying to develop a three line piece of writing where there are rules on the number of syllables is too difficult.

I don’t buy poetry books. I don’t read poetry.

Having the above in mind, I can still comment on the author’s writing. He presents his work ‘as is’. What I mean is, he doesn’t spin the material into something that’s it’s not. Most of the poems are one page or less so I didn’t have to keep track of the gestalt throughout pages and pages of lines.

The author uses words very well. While I understood what he was trying to present in all of them, there were a few that I found notable because of his writing style.

– Kill Zone Requiem: very well done imagery.

– Omaha Beach: this presented a different view from an individual, other than what is oft seen in movies.

– Journey Music: a history of music throughout the eons.

– Soldiers’ Dream of Myrtle Beach 1966: gritty and realistic

– They’re Alive, Alive… & Bad Santa: Two poems that show the author’s whimsical, humorous side. Bad Santa was my favorite in the book.

– In the Slow Flow: again imagery and the last two lines really bring it home.

So, the anticipated rank. How do I rank a book of poems when I don’t read poetry? How do I rank a bunch of non-rhyming lines about wars I never knew, about experiences I’ve never had?

Like so many other books, it comes down to the like-ability factor. Did I enjoy the book? Would I read more of this author’s material?

I know the author wouldn’t want anything but honesty from a reviewer so the answer to both questions is: yes.

My Rank:

Brown Belt


How To Catch Your Mate


By Michael Goldenberg


Please don’t send me requests for reviews on how-to books or self-improvement or anything akin to this book. Once again, this is a rare occasion where a book struck my interest. I don’t read these on a normal basis, but I was emailed a list of reviews that were desperately needed and this one caught my eye.


Women, are you looking for a mate? Well, this book gives you tips you can use to up the odds of catching that right man.

This is written by a man to women, based on ideas collected from men. I thought it was going to be more in depth but a lot of the topics covered are skimmed. However, a lot are common sense.


Well, none, really, unless you want to include the author who is married with children.

I thought there might be more anecdotes but there were only a few examples of bad dates.


Well, none, really, except for a few lines thrown out.


Titled chapters. Really, really short chapters. Some illustrations. One instance of mild profanity.

The author takes the first several chapters setting up the rest of the book.

I thought there might be more humor and although it was written in a light-hearted manner, I didn’t find any ha-ha moments.

Some of the topics covered include: Being wary of the ‘C’ word; preparing the man’s attraction through a messenger; preparing for the first date; using compliments; knowing how to cook; cleanliness; and preparing for sex.

As mentioned, this doesn’t go in depth and is a very quick read. Many of the tips are common and common sense. I had a minor disagreement with one of them only because I’m a traditionalist with an open mind.

Still, a pretty well written book…with a guaranteed certificate at the end…

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


Dream State


By Charles R. Hinckley



Augustus Chase has a unique ability. He is able to dream of future deaths. After he sees first a man and then a women die in his sleep, then read about their actual deaths after he tried to warn the victims, he decides to become a private investigator in order to help people. Chase’s first client, Frank, wants to know about his sister…who died when she was ten. His second client is the sister of the victim Chase saw before. Can Chase use his ability to solve the cases?

I accepted this book because I thought the premise interesting. However, once into it, I discovered this plot had more holes than Swiss cheese and more problems than my math teacher assigned in high school.

1. Chase doesn’t have total control over his ability, but discovers later that he’s akin to a psychic in that if he touches something personal he’ll go into the ‘dream state’.

2. Speaking of, he doesn’t like the word psychic yet that’s what he puts in his newspaper ad.

3. At the beginning of the book, he dreams a man dies. Then he dreams a woman dies. No time element as to when each died, so I’m assuming-as would be natural-that the man dies first. However, the man becomes the suspect in the woman’s death and no explanation to the time element is explained.

4. Chase is constantly unsure whether he wants to be a detective. (Probably should be in the Characters section, but I just wrote them down as I caught them.)

5. The time(s) he wants to be a PI, he resists Frank’s payments but doesn’t charge the sister of the woman who was killed.

6. He buys how-to books on private investigation, but apparently never reads them.

7. He is upset when people don’t believe his ability.

8. There’s an element to the mystery dealing with an experiment with a professor (which is completely unbelievable that the assistant wasn’t suspicious of all the down low attitude of the professor and code words having to be used.)

9. There’s another element that deals with a company and fraud, but I didn’t understand it and it wasn’t a big enough deal to care about because it wasn’t played up as such.


August Chase: 35, museum exhibition technician, attended NYU

Frank Cosh: 300 lbs., owns a cat, thin hair, gray beard, former answering service company owner

Carla Donati: sister is dead, nurse, tall, dark hair

Millar Milford: tin, long straight hair, wears glasses, divorced (or just about to be), computer techie, wealthy, owns a ‘67 Camaro

Allen: bartender

To be honest, I didn’t like anybody. Frank was all over the map going from desperation to philosophical. Allen was okay, but he was grumpy all the time. Carla sends out wrong signals for romance, then backs away when the moment is nigh. Chase gets angry at her a couple times because she won’t believe his abilities yet keeps coming back and doesn’t seem too affected by his attitude. She’s a part time nurse at places, but that isn’t explained properly enough and I thought her bouncing around was part of the mystery. Millar was okay but he has a cousin who is a cop and way over the top in playing the ‘bad cop’.


Millar was the only one who kept it constant. I did like the jibes Chase and he exchanged. Frank was, again, all over the place.


Unnecessary profanity. Titled chapters.

Some punctuation problems and a misspelled word here and there.

Basically, this entire book was a mess. I thought about Yellow Belt for awhile, but decided to go two steps lower.

My Rank:

White Belt


Ghosts And Shadows


By H. Max Hiller



2009. Louisiana Police Investigator Cooter Holland is called to an arson scene in New Orleans where the evidence of a super hot fire makes for a strange case. The incident and others like it soon attracts Homeland Security and a company that specializes in military and domestic spy products. Holland finds himself in the middle of federal authorities, local and Mexican gangs, an election, and if he doesn’t put it all together and stop the coming explosion, he may not live to see the Saints in the Superbowl and Mardis Gras is going to be a deadly celebration.

This plot just keeps growing in intensity and complexity as the pages turn. I expected an interesting murder mystery with an arson thrown in. Who knew the feds and gangs and bombs and a tracker dog and family relationships were also included? This one has a lot and is well presented.


Cooter Holland: Nickname Cadillac, owns two Cadillacs, Louisiana State Police investigator, 42, part owner of a bistro, father dead, former military intelligence, has a sister

Clyde Wheeler: State fire Marshall, thin, 50s, short

Bill Avery: Chief of detectives, overweight

Katie Reilly: state attorney, Holland’s girlfriend, long brown hair, divorced

Bradford Skincare: Deputy Director for Homeland Security

There are a few other characters who pop up from time to time and I like them all. Very different personalities, attitudes, and hints of good guy/bad guy in several. I think the characters were well developed. Family ties for Holland came into play and that was well handled.


Some issues with punctuation in the dialogue going to the tags. Periods instead of commas. The issue that caught my attention with dialogue is the author tended to explain the meaning/relevance of the statement just said. At times it was okay, but I think it was overdone. Let the scene and the dialogue explain rather than the narrator tell the reader what somebody’s words meant.


First person from Holland’s POV.

No profanity, which surprised me because this would have been a book I would have expected some. This doesn’t make it an unrealistic book and I enjoyed how the author kept the reader interested with the plot and the action without profanity.

Some tense problems that didn’t work for me.

Other than that, it’s a longer book than most. Not too bad but it took me awhile to read through it. Still and good mystery, good action, a bit of New Orleans culture thrown in and enough believe-ability to show that the author had done some homework and knew about the material.

My Rank:

Purple Belt




By Alex Chu



When Logan Weidman receives an email to join a secret society known as the Monarchs, he believes it to be spam. However, the group is real and if he joins, he will have years of success and wealth ahead of him. All he has to do is…kill someone. Soon Weidman discovers that there are more things to the Monarchs than just the benefits. Can he escape the influence?

Okay, I was intrigued by this plot, especially since it’s based on a real email received by the author. Unfortunately, this plot is pretty predictable in the way it unfolds.


Logan Weidman: 29, works at a call center for a furniture company, B.A. in Economics from N.Y.U., MBA from Rutgers, parents divorced

Jarod: late 20s, tanned, short dirty blond hair, green eyes, works with Weidman in the call center

Lee: Auburn hair, thin, has a dog, works with Weidman in the call center

Hunter Hummel: olive skinned, sapphire eyes, golden blond

Fernando: Latino, 30s

Kyiwam: black, early 20s, black hair

There are a few more characters who are introduced throughout the book. Not a lot of background info on them and some don’t have last names.


Fairly average voices, no real distinction. Conversations don’t last long.


Book is divided into 2 Parts. Profanity. Some chapters headed by date.

As mentioned, this book is pretty formulaic with no real surprises. I thought it might get into more of the history of the Monarchs, where and how they originated, how their influence worked throughout the centuries, how they influenced world events, etc. But, sadly, none of this was delved into.

Fairly clean writing but it’s a shorter book than most, so it’s a quick read.

This is good story but it could have used more meat. I thought it would have been interesting to learn more of the email the author received, the contents, how she handled it, and how it developed into the story.

My Rank:

Green Belt




By Erick Therme



Andy Crowl is the sole heir to his cousin’s house. Inside, he finds a dead rat…which starts him and his sister on a quest to solve the clues their cousin left for him. In doing so, family secrets are revealed.

An interesting puzzle case. I like those. Solve the clue, which leads to another, and another.


Andy Cowl: 30, smokes, likes puzzles, divorced

Kate Anne Crowl: Andy’s sister

Nate Shawler: shop owner, 300 lbs., scar on arm

Mary Moore: 5’, 200 lbs., aunt of Andy/Kate

Ricky Simms: cemetery groundskeeper, 60s, thick neck, widower

An interesting cast of characters. Mary has the most relevance to the game, but the others add to the plot.


Some good voices. Nate’s easy going, Kate’s whinging, Ricky’s yelling. Some overuse of ‘ly’ adverbs on tag lines.


Book is divided into Days. Relatively short chapters. A couple instances of mild profanity.

I thought the story flowed fairly well with some hiccups. There were several cliffhangers and the next chapter would start with the person already out of danger and an explanation of how. That was a bit of a let down.

Mild action but nothing real intense. The story seemed a bit disjointed in places, but it was pretty easy to follow. One of the clues didn’t make sense and was never explained, but the story wrapped up well and left me feeling a bit for Andy, because he didn’t know the story was over.

Anyway, clean error free writing and a pretty good book.

My Rank:

Purple Belt




By Erik Therme



Kaylee is invited to a friend’s house for a party. The attendees end up in an abandoned retirement home for a scavenger hunt. The hunt doesn’t last too long when Kaylee encounters a deaf boy. From there, danger lurks around every corner, especially when they find themselves locked inside the building

Not quite what I expected. I didn’t expect a ghost story, but this has some suspense.


Kaylee: 15, father and mother having marital problems, blonde

Jamie: 15, blonde, parents dead, owns a cat, has a mole on her lip

Ethan: 15, Jamie’s twin brother, dark hair, freckles

Wren: 15 dark hair, beaky nose

Anna: mud brown hair

Sidney Elizabeth: braided pigtails for hair, parents in prison

I thought the characters were pretty good and they interacted well together. Only a couple had last names. Since the story centered on Kaylee, I didn’t see a lot of development from the others. Jamie was missing in the story for a long time and though the reason is explained, I thought she should have had more play in being Kaylee’s antagonist.


Reasonably good voices and conversations went okay. Not a lot of time for extraneous stuff, but the arguments between the girls played out well.


First person from Kaylee’s POV.

This book doesn’t have any chapters. Except for the epilogue, it’s one long scene. I think writing it this way is fine.

The story is more for the YA or NA crowd. As mentioned, It wasn’t what expected.

Some more descriptions about the building/the halls/rooms at the retirement home would have been good.

Otherwise, a fairly quick and error clean read.

My Rank:

Green Belt




By Daco



When the electricity utility heiress Alexa Manchester tries to give the world a great source of electricity, sabotage causes havoc and transforms her into a super being. Able to fly and fire bolts of electricity Alexa becomes Electromancer.

And just in time, too, for there is an evil force brewing, wanting to control the world. Momo and his henchmen who have created the Big Zapper.

It’s a fight for power, literally and figuratively, as Electromancer squares off against Momo. But she is not alone, for in the midst of battle, here comes another force to reckon with-The Blue Arrow.

Oh wow! I had fun reading this book. What an excellent plot. A new superhero book. I thought this plot was well crafted and well delivered. It made me want to believe in superheroes again. It threw a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming and sets up for a series…if Daco would like to write another book.

And I wish she would.


Alexa Manchester: parents dead, owns a power plant, 29, blonde, blue eyes, wealthy, owns a cat

Bigelow ‘Biggie’ Bitterman: 4’11”, drives a sedan, black hair

Sigfried Sawyer: 37, chauffeur/butler for Alexa, azure eyes, short sandy hair

Zachary Zero: alcoholic

Bobby Baumgartner: 37, mayor, owns a gold Lamborghini

What a wonderful cast of characters. I loved every one. From the elder council members to the slutty twins. From Alexa’s uncle to Professor Slipter. Great names, distinctive personalities. Great comic book characters without going over the top…well, not too much.


Of course the voices were all there. You knew every character by the words and tone of voice. Conversations were wonderful to read. I think there is just the right amount of dialogue. I think, too, there is just enough comic book bad guy dialogue to keep it humorous, yet, dramatic and fun.


Daco knows how to write.

No profanity except for a very minor instance. Chapters are headed by location, time, etc. Varying lengths of chapters, but mostly short.

A couple misspelled words.

Action is succinct and doesn’t drag.

As mentioned above, the story is presented with a well thought out sequence. You have the introduction to the heroine, the bad guy, and a couple of fun changes in characters. I won’t play spoiler, but the comic book fun doesn’t end.

And romance? Oh yes, there is a bit of spark (pun intended) between two characters.

If you want a fun read to escape from the world, this one is it. I love it. I want more.

My Rank:

Red Belt


California Smoke


By Hank Shaeffer



Ex-vice cop Eddie Fuentes just got bounced from the Oakland P.D., not an easy thing to do. Now he’s back in Redwood County, trying to figure out how his dope grower dad went off a bridge. And there’s this very sexy redhead who’s a little too good to be true.

Shanna Black is a drug lawyer in the crosshairs of a DEA investigation. She thinks Eddie could be part of her exit strategy — if only she can lure him into a certain situation without her client finding out.

Meanwhile, there’s a professional killer with a maniac for a kid brother and a shotgun-toting mom. And don’t forget Eddie’s old pool hustler pal, Russell George, a Native American developing his own little project called the Redwood Casino.

Sorry, I couldn’t think of any other way to describe the plot, so I took the blurb from Amazon. Let me say, there is a lot going on in this story. It’s complex with connections here and there.


Eddie Fuentes: former cop, blue eyes, light brown hair, dad dead

Shanna Black: lawyer, red hair, divorced, smokes

Russell George: American Indian, graying long hair

Dick: President of West Coast Lumber, thin blond hair, pale blue eyes

Actually, despite the comments below, the cast is interesting. A nice variety of personalities who develop throughout the book.


Good voices, but a lot of conversations with few beats between people speaking. I think this is one of the problems I had with this book is that everybody talks. A lot. Too much sometimes.

Otherwise, there are tag lines that shouldn’t be. …” she smiled. Smiled is an action, not a way of saying something.


Profanity. Titled chapters.

Okay, so problems I had with this. This book goes on for a long time with little action. There are many stories happening and I’m not a big fan of four or five subplots, especially with this many characters. For me, the story took awhile to develop and to get every story line straight and I admit, I lost track of things about half way through. I didn’t understand why certain things occurred other than to have another story going on.

Having this in mind, the book was clean of errors.

For me, this book was long and drawn out and I lost interest. One of the reasons is I thought this would be more humorous and it wasn’t.

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


The Old Lady Detective Agency


By Ryan Herrin



I present senior citizens Pam Breck and her friend Betty. Pam thinks everyone is up to nefarious deeds. When a local flea market is robbed, Pam and Betty are on the case. That is if Pam can keep from thinking about a mysterious pony-tailed man she swears is a criminal, and if she can stop thinking Betty might be the mastermind behind the robbery. Betty would rather watch junk television, buy an accordion, and figure out the brown stain on a tissue in her purse.

Okay, I like it and it kind of, sort of, almost works.


Pam Breck: multiple divorces, has a son, long silver hair, wears glasses, has a younger sister, drives a Buick Skylark

Betty: has a shot glass and porcelain figurine collection, has a dog, has children, curly dyed hair, multiple divorces

Ernie: flea market manager

Jared Massey: music dealer

Estelle: security guard

Albert: wears glasses, Pam’s son, 350 lbs.

Michael Wilson: owns a Pontiac

A lot of good characters. Some don’t have last names. If Betty’s was mentioned, I didn’t catch it. Pam’s didn’t show up until long into the book. Not too much description of characters so I wasn’t sure about Betty. I liked her and she was a good tag-along for Pam the go-getter.


For the most part everyone had a distinctive voice. Conversations tended to be short.


Too many semicolons at the beginning and they were misused.

No profanity

Some tense problems here and there.

Although I enjoyed the story I thought that it was a bit over the top. I felt that the author tried to hard to always add comedy. Comedy is tough in stories. There were a lot of repetitions that didn’t seem to go anywhere and some of the expository thoughts detracted from the main story. I thought there should have been more emphasis on the actual case, more clues, more witnesses. As mentioned, I liked Betty but she was pretty scatter-brained which, again, detracted from the main story. Maybe less extra stuff. The gang of women Betty and Pam hang with were mentioned and I thought they might have played a larger role.

Generally, some tighter writing was needed.

The action and tension were low. Maybe Pam and Betty needed to be in more danger.

Also, in regards to the actual mystery, I don’t think the case was ‘solved’ by anyone. Betty received her spotlight moment but I didn’t make the connection between Pam’s investigation and the solution. Pam’s Nero Wolfe or Ellery Queen’s gather-the-suspects-in-one-place-and-explain-everything faltered a bit.

If this is to be a series, it has potential, if a bit of reworking.

My Rank:

Green Belt