Armageddon by Dick Morris & Eileen McGann

Armageddon: How Trump Can Beat Hillary
by Dick Morris & Eileen McGann
Humanix Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“She is accustomed to getting her talking points from Bill or some other key advisor and going out there and fighting for them.”

While some books are requested for review, others arrive on their own. Armageddon is one of the latter, and it sat in our in-box for months before the growing election season piqued our curiosity. Inside, writer Eileen McGann speaks for Dick Morris who is a well-known political commentator and former Clinton advisor. He knew the Clintons well, until his unceremonious dismissal after being discovered that he let a prostitute overhear a phone conversation with the President (i.e. Bill Clinton). It suffices to say that no one in this book is an angel. This is not a debate about Clinton in the classical sense, and there is no rebuttal from the Clinton point of view.

The book begins by outlining twelve reasons why Mrs. Clinton should not be president, ranging from her legendary temper to her right-up-to-the-chalk-line behavior with the law. Most of this information has circulated during the election year. He paints the picture of a candidate who is virtually unable to address controversy in a straight-line manner and therefore must constantly reformulate her truths in order to survive.

Beyond the general deceits that we anticipate from any politician—only the frequency and severity varies—Morris points out two troubling factors. First, since leaving her husband’s oval office, Clinton has become much more hawkish on war. During her period as Secretary of State, the Middle East destabilized, an American embassy was attacked under suspicious circumstances, and a general mood of international chaos has risen with more encouragement than mitigation. Second, Clinton is not charismatic like her husband. Nor is she a creative thinker. This brings up perhaps the only new insight in the book. According to Morris, Clinton relies heavily upon idea men who Morris calls gurus. Morris identifies himself as one such guru from 1995 to 1996. He claims that she becomes transfixed by her gurus, following their advice word for word, instead of incorporating it into her own ideas like Kennedy or Reagan. This behavior has even led at times to campaign staff rebellions, but more importantly, it poses the question: Who will be Clinton’s guru as President? In other words, who will be influencing her direction of the country?

In 1787 as Dr. James McHenry of Maryland exited the last day of the Constitutional Convention, he stopped one of America’s true originals and freethinkers, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, to pose a simple question, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Today our government behaves more like a bananas republic than that which is stewarded by its people. This transformation did not happen overnight, and we are all to blame for tolerating its creeping decline and the men and women who populate its halls. Morris and McGann could have posed the most important question: Which candidate can halt or even reverse our slippery road to perdition? And while we are at that task, if we are of the mind, it would be almost impossible not to raise the level of civil discourse given its current residence in the gutter.

No candidate is perfect or the best fit for the job, while some are better suited for the times. A case could easily be made that Clinton would deliver more of the expected in government, while Trump is a product of the times, the wildcard that occasionally appears in history. Not every wildcard is successful. In fact most are not. They are more influential than ultimate leaders. Ironically, Bill Clinton was one such wildcard who surprisingly won the presidency in 1992. Today, Morris presents the case that Hillary Clinton would further current causes, while deepening existing flaws in government, such as its propensity for questionable military action and the reckless course of the national debt. Morris is not necessarily interested in Trump. He wants to defeat Mrs. Clinton. One also has to temper his commentary with the fact that he has been forced to watch the Clintons from the outside for two decades.

Armageddon borders on the sensational, and its veering into Chelsea Clinton’s dealings should have been avoided. It would’ve been effective to see Trump vs. Clinton, point for point, making it the easiest for people to see the contrast and decide on their own. Still, the book does not claim to be a fair and balanced presentation—a phrase employed often by Morris’ former employers at Fox News. The book is of two parts: first, Morris’ personal assessment of Hillary Clinton, which should be sprinkled liberally with salt, and second, his strategy for exposing the weaknesses in her campaign rhetoric. Mostly, it’s a passionate plea to take a look at the woman behind the campaign slogans.


Three Things to Consider When Purchasing a Book Review

With hundreds of thousands of books published annually, marketing your book can be a daunting task. One of your choices will inevitably come down to whether or not to purchase a book review. Here are three major factors to consider:

Professional Writing – A number of aspects go into a professionally written review. First, is the staff populated by professionals? This seems obvious, but many review sites are writer mills, allowing virtually anyone who is interested to pen a review. Other review sites barely compose a staff. These are mom and pop shops that tend to hang an Internet shingle for business, purport authority, and write reviews on their own. These are not professionals at work, no matter how slick or jazzy their websites appear. Look at the publication’s staff page, if it even has one. Are there more than a handful of writers? Be suspicious of a publication that refuses to reveal its reviewers’ names. The byline credit is a basic courtesy given to a professional freelancer, and virtually none would work without obtaining a byline for their portfolio. Second, is the review publication consistent across the masthead? A professional review publication has guidelines and an editor who keeps its staff and articles in line. Each review should have consistency, generating both authority and confidence in the publication. Third, does the reviewer address both the book content and the writing? Any sixth-grader can write a book summary, but a professional will critique a book through informed commentary that also addresses the writing itself. If the review narratives appear summary-driven, conversational, or employ a first-person tense, these are not professional writers at work.

Authentic Readership – Are there dedicated subscribers, visitors, and followers of the review publication? A professional review means nothing if no one reads the publication. Weekly, monthly, and annual visitors are metrics that can be easily measured (and provided to the author). Does the publication have a subscriber base? If not (or if it’s insignificant), the publication cannot assert relevance for its work. And if the publication merely dumps its reviews on an on-line aggregator (that next to no one reads), it will not be of any service to the author. Next, validate the publication’s social media following with one of the free analytical tools, such as TwitterAudit for Twitter followers and LikeAnalyzer for Facebook likes. Here’s a dirty little secret about the industry: Many review publications are purchasing Twitter and Facebook followers to create the illusion of having a large audience, when in fact it is only a fraction of what it appears to be. This is useless to the author, as well as unethical on the part of the publication. See our article on this subject: Fake Social Media: More Common Than You Think.

Cost-Effectiveness – Most authors’ budgets are limited, and spending hundreds of dollars for a book review is not acceptable. Often these reviews are no better than that which you can obtain from a free book review site like The Midwest Book Review, which ranges from good, semi-professional coverage to amateur reviews. A professional book review can be obtained for less than one hundred dollars, but be certain to closely examine the publication’s writing and readership in advance.

Warning: If the publication or its editors are up-selling manuscript editing services or the like, you have to ask: What business are they really in? Are they a review publication, or are they a money-milking operation? The work of an editor and the work of a reviewer should never cross paths. An editor ensures quality, and a reviewer measures it. When the reviewer and editor become one entity, integrity flies out the window. (Hmmm… let us review the wonderful manuscript we just helped you edit… hmmm… not very trustworthy.)

Deciding to purchase a book review can be an effective tool when marketing a book. It can provide pull-quotes for marketing and stock materials for a media kit and press releases. It can even seed eventual sales. Remember, a book review is only the beginning of the conversation about the book. Read this article on creating a feedback loop to help kick-start your marketing efforts.

The US Review of Books is a professional review publication sent to more than 15,000 monthly subscribers, including thousands of additional followers on GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter. The US Review is staffed by professionals and is highly praised by authors.


Seeing the Real You at Last: Life and Love on the Road with Bob Dylan

Seeing the Real You at Last: Life and Love on the Road with Bob Dylan
by Britta Lee Shain
Jawbone Press

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“How could he embarrass his children this way? How could he embarrass himself?”

Shain’s tale of her brief affair with Bob Dylan takes us from her college days, through early trials and successes, and the struggle to find love and relevance as an artist. It eventually peaks at her star-crossed intersection with Bob Dylan. Along the way, we get glimpses of a Dylan at work and play, as well as the infamous number of masks that guard him from the public. When Shain ultimately unveils him, we discover the portrait of an atypical artist trapped inside an ordinary drunk and womanizer.

The travelogue aspects of this book really shine, especially during a mid-80s tour through Europe when Shain and Dylan finally hook-up. Dylan’s album releases form signposts throughout the story, where the author draws life parallels if only at times a loose association. Even prior to meeting Dylan, Shain makes personal connections to his lyrics and interjects them throughout the book. You never have to have met Dylan to graft to his lyrics. His art is truly brilliant in that way.

The book takes a while to get started. It is intent on mapping every nuance of the heart, and its narrative arc runs long, delivering tedious personal details and a fair amount of name-dropping. It takes two hundred pages for Shain and Dylan to consummate their relationship. Within that run-up, there are on balance only moderate appearances by and little unique insight to the famous songwriter. However, there is a larger tale of life, which builds within the context of the entire story. For in tragedy, this story becomes real.

Shain grew up the child of alcoholic/mentally ill parents who may or may not have been drinking to self-medicate. The legacy of an alcoholic’s child is that of an adult searcher who desires to fill the missing spaces of the past. Often the result, or at least one stop in the journey, is to find another drinker in the hope of resolving childhood pain. Dylan fills this role with gusto for Shain. He is charming, smart, and willing to focus his considerable attention on her, and he can drink a lake of booze and remain on his feet. While Shain is a searcher, Dylan is a hunter, perhaps using women to improvise love inside the bubble of fame. The past will not be repaired for her at this stop. When Dylan’s wife learns of their affair, it becomes a threat to Dylan’s comfort level, and Shain is banned from his inner circle, debasing their genuine physical and emotional intimacy. She is heartbroken and must become realistic about her expectations and the aftermath of what she’s done.

This is a tale that has been scripted by the privileged throughout the centuries, and in another time, Shain might have been cast on the roadside to die. An alcoholic does not consider his sins, unless sober when his conscience can become so weighty that he quickly returns to the drink to erase the guilt. Dylan, for all his unique and transcending artistic abilities, lives a cliché life. Polished up to glittering effect by celebrity, he appears to be surrounded by adoring enablers who allow him to outrun the consequences of his actions for as long as he can. He gets what he wants and moves on, and Shain ends up being just another of the musician’s dalliances—many of whom will never be known. It would have been interesting if Shain had unearthed Dylan’s motivation for living this way, but that’s a different nut to crack. If his latter music is any indication, he has since given up the bottle and at the very least reinvigorated his art if not his life.

Shain will undoubtedly receive a backlash from Dylan fans for this betrayal of the secretive songwriter’s confidence, and she will be cast as a groupie with gossip. An honest assessment says, that she was a casual friend who leapt starry-eyed into his self-destructive path. Furthermore, she is an unpublished novelist, and her book with Dylan’s name attached will likely form her best attempt at literary relevance. However, it’s enough that Shain has unwittingly given voice to the many women Dylan has left in his wake, more specifically his lesser known conquests who apparently include many backup singers and female acquaintances. Shain does not lay blame, and there is nary a trace of bitterness. She takes responsibility for her part in the affair and reflects inwardly upon the damage to herself, his wife, and his children. She admits that her ideal image of Dylan ran headlong into a very human Dylan, and while she’ll forever be charmed by him, she has pulled herself together and moved along her search to better places.

Dylan could write a song about their meeting, but he will likely never glance at this book. Instead, his behavior is repeated by thousands of others each day across the globe. Like many iconic figures, Dylan has always taken advantage of the fact that what he does in his personal life just doesn’t matter to the public. We only want the songs, while we fantasize about the songwriter. Shain reminds us that our notion of the songwriter is just that—a complete fantasy.


Know What You Write

Every once in a while the following advice pops up in blogs and at writers’ conferences like a bad rash.

Write what you know.

What uninspired genius devised this rule? It wasn’t a writer of fiction. If authors heeded those words, the balance of modern literature might encompass little more than travel logs, odes to typewriters and keyboards, and tours of every gin mill in the country. Let’s face it. We don’t do much else. Tom Clancy was an insurance salesman. That would make a gripping action-packed thriller: Broker Bob Jones is hot on the trail of client Donna Smith. Can he get her to sign a life insurance policy before the monthly quota statements?

Consider the authors of great novels. Was Tom Clancy a Russian submarine commander? Was Thomas Harris a genius cannibal? Was Ralph Ellison an invisible man? I don’t think so, but they did the research and wrote from those viewpoints with confidence and style. It is better to say ‘know what you write.’ That makes more sense.

When it comes to choosing your story details, you are only limited by research and the depth of your determination to uncover the details. What interests you? Go after it. Submerse yourself if necessary. We live in the Information Age with access to people and data like never before. It’s so easy that you can become lazy if you aren’t careful.

And how do you research being an invisible man? Observe anyone handing out flyers on a street corner.

Christopher Klim is the author of several books including and the novel, Idiot!, and the short collection, True Surrealism. He is currently working on a novel trilogy about the space program past, present, and future—and his control system for each will be firmly established.


Beauty is a Wound

by Eka Kurniawan
New Directions Publishing

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead twenty-one years.”

Kurniawan’s poignant and at times rollicking novel covers a century of Indonesian history from the death throes of Dutch rule, through the Japanese invasion during World War II, and into the nation’s late-century struggle for independence. Centering on the fictional shore town of Halimunda, the story covers the exploits and trials of Dewi Ayu and her four daughters, each sired by a different father during critical points of her life. These are strong if not capricious women who are self-determined and at times reckless in their path through time. They form unique characters who are ultimately metaphors for the primary facets of modern Indonesian history and its struggle to enter the twenty-first century.

Dewi Ayu, who is part Dutch by blood, sees her status fall as the Europeans evacuate during World War II. After enduring Japanese imprisonment, she is pressed into service as a comfort women—a crime against humanity that the Japanese remain unapologetic for. Ironically she reverses this fortune by becoming the most famous and sought-after prostitute in all the land.

In time, Dewi Ayu’s oldest three daughters marry a head of the military, the most feared criminal in town, and a leading socialist activist respectively. As much as they must witness their husbands’ wrath on Halimunda, each daughter, like their mother, experiences unimaginable cruelty, as well as a unique reconciliation with love. For these women, beauty is both a weapon and a burden that costs them more than they deserve. The suffering of these exotic, compelling mixed-blood women summons their ability to overcome extreme circumstance in a way that only a woman can.

Turning the tables on the exploitation of what we hold dear in our eyes, Dewi Ayu’s youngest daughter forms a hideous sight by any standard. She is shunned by her community and mockingly named Beauty by her own mother who abandons her by dying shortly after her birth. Through the girl Beauty and the events to which all the women are exposed, author Kurniawan indicts the inhumanity against man brought by foreign occupation and the ensuing fight for independence. Here, there is scarcely anyone either not guilty or a victim of violence and a lust for power. Too often, less developed nations are dragged into the future by the worst men have to offer.

Like the intergenerational curse that lords over the family, much of this tale is tragic. However, it gains momentum and entertainment in its use of folklore, verisimilitude of setting, and spectacular storytelling that harkens the classic novel form. A hint of contemporary verbiage exists that may or may not have been introduced by Annie Tucker’s clean and consistent translation. The writing is markedly mature by achieving both broad palette concepts and distinct character details at the same time. This is a large novel about a country and a handful of interesting people delivered by an interesting new author on the English-speaking scene.


When Writing, Know Your Control System

Like the cockpit of the space shuttle or even the thermostat in your residence, a written piece has specific parameters to guide it successfully. If a cockpit needs airspeed and attitude controls to maintain flight, then a written piece requires unique methodology to garner truth. Not only does the terminology need to be established, it also needs to be consistent and replete throughout the piece. Careless, mixed, or wandering terminology undermines the entire work.

The concept of a control system in writing inevitably drills down to word choice. A writer must be aware of the words, phrasing, and cadence associated with a specific passage, as well as the entire piece. If the passage involves quick action or comedy, the sentence structure tends to be short, even blunt. If the scene takes place inside a military installation, acronyms will flow through both the dialogue and exposition. If the scene takes place in history, the words selected will match the time period.

Consider the following passage from a prehistoric age genre novel: The clan leader leapt from the bushes and came down upon the beast like a bus at rush hour. This type of metaphor happens more often than one might imagine and in subtle, less obvious ways. When digesting the aforementioned sentence, the reader understands that the clan leader was moving quickly and heavily upon the beast, but the reader is also jarred from the time period by the writer’s unfortunate out-of-time-period metaphor. If the clan leader were waiting for a bus at rush hour, he’d be waiting a very long time.

The control system selected for a piece will be pervasive, extending beyond the obvious passages. One of the joys of reading is to enter the mind of the characters on the page. If that character is a professional diver, his/her actions and viewpoint on life will be reflective of the sea and perhaps the constant dangers he’s exposed to. Even in relationships with others, that character will measure people against what he knows—brooding dark waters, a relentless shark, or the fanciful circus of a coral reef—otherwise that character will be acting out of his/her own control system. Even if that character is a mad, unpredictable genius, he will be guided, and therefore described, by a specific set of parameters using the precise words to delineate his actions or speech. And all of this will be moderated by the overarching terminology of the entire work.

Establishing and employing the proper control system establishes both authenticity and confidence in writing, and it requires a level of detail that many journeyman writers either overlook or fail to do the research and editing required. Study any master writer—a real master writer, not a self-proclaimed master bestseller on the Internet—and uncover the details of the control system established for a specific work. Once you’ve put in the effort, you’ll find yourself reaching for the correct dialogue and descriptions that fit the piece.

Christopher Klim is the author of several books including and the novel, Idiot!, and the short collection, True Surrealism. He is currently working on a novel trilogy about the space program past, present, and future—and his control system for each will be firmly established.




The Green Stick: A Memoir

by Reg van Cuylenburg
Blue Palm Press

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“Behind us the moon floated in the waters of the Paralrama Samudra… Nightjars laughed like goblins, the cicadas sawed incessantly, and in the distance across the lake we heard the lonely trumpeting of a herd of elephants.”

Reg van Cuylenberg, Ceylon-born (now Sri Lanka), leaves behind a captivating memoir of growing toward manhood in The Green Stick. Beginning around the age of three and ending at seventeen years of age, the author, who was also an accomplished artist and journalist, unpacks memories like a Chinese fan, revealing unique insights and beauty.

This coming of age story weaves through the magic of self-discovery, as well as it navigates the history of Sri Lanka. All of it is wrought through Reg’s journey—his friendships, loves, trials, and victories. The ache of his absent mother, who died shortly after his birth, resonates throughout his early days, but the boy is rescued by his loving grandfather and their enduring friendship. Thus, a man is crafted for the years ahead.

Simultaneously, the portrait of a budding artist arises, as Reg explores drawing, painting, and eventually photography. As in much of the memories revealed, poignancy is gained through the artist’s eye—what to leave out, what to leave in, and how perception and vision transform into the inner sight of the artist.

The end of the story is only the beginning of Reg’s life, as the narrator gets his first footing with maturity. Like the shrinking family legacy and the changing landscape of a post-twentieth century world, Reg seems wide-eyed and prepared to take on the world.

“The sky above Burnt Head is a pale iridescent green, a color that would defy any painter. Behind me the sun sinks slowly behind the rim of the hills.The gulls mew and cry, calling to mates and young ones. … It is over, and I lie here dreaming of them all. …

As in the best of memoirs, his writing transcends the personal and creates a work of art that contains superb storytelling and luminous literary passages. The narrative is at times so gripping and the writing is of such high caliber that this book should not be overlooked. The Green Stick was the 2016 Eric Hoffer Award for Books grand prizewinner.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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