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Douglas Cobb has commented on (12) products.

Chronicles of Ara: Creation by Joel Eisenberg
Chronicles of Ara: Creation

Douglas Cobb, August 8, 2015

The Chronicles of Ara is an eight-volume epic fantasy written by Joel Eisenberg and Steven Hillard. The Chronicles of Ara: Creation contains the first two books of the series, and it is a companion piece to Hillard’s Mirkwood, A Novel About J.R.R. Tolkien, which Hillard had to go to court in a battle against the estate of J.R.R. in order to have it published. It deals with facts and events in Tolkien’s life, in a fictionalized form.

Ara was a character in Mirkwood, and she is greatly expanded upon in The Chronicles of Ara. The Chronicles of Ara: Creation also has Tolkien as one of its major characters, along with many others, like Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, who Carroll was inspired by when he wrote Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, in Book Two.

The first two books of The Chronicles of Ara, compiled in The Chronicles of Ara: Creation, are a page-turning, mind-expanding journey into the realms of the imagination and deep questions like what is it that inspires art and authors. For instance, one of the things that inspired the young J.R.R. Tolkien were tales he was told by his mother about there being dragons in a nearby forest.

The concept of the goddess, Ara, was inspired in the mind of author Hillard by a question that one of his daughters had about Tolkien’s books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. She asked her father why there were not any heroic female characters in Tolkien’s novels. At the time, Hillard, thinking on his feet, said to her that “Professor Tolkien just didn’t get around to them yet.”

Though neither of Hillard’s daughters seemed like they bought his explanation, he writes that they asked him to tell them a story about Ara. He did just that, calling her “a halfling lass, a hobbitess if you will.”

A bit later, Hillard writes: “She would change the world by the most powerful of tools: inspiration.” He wrote about Ara in Mirkwood, then decided to expand upon the character with co-author, Eisenberg.

In The Chronicles of Ara: Creation, Ara is a very powerful goddess, who can take human form. She has been lied to by all of the other gods and goddesses, and she does not, at first, realize her true power and potential.

One way that she is different from her sisters is that, unlike them, she is “cursed.’ She will become mortal, the co-authors write, “over the course of eons. For her sisters, “time and space are one,” but for Ara, she has to endlessly wait, because she can only see to the Infinity Pass.” What, exactly, the Infinity Pass is, will not be explained until later in the book.

With Mirkwood, Hillard wrote about a time of dragons and dragon wars, before humans walked the Earth. In The Chronicles of Ara: Creation, times and setting shift, from the era of Tolkien’s boyhood to years after he has passed away, the time when author, Thomas McFee, has the idea of writing about Tolkien but in a fictionalized manner. The authors write that “McFee lauded Tolkien, but he did not believe him to be beyond reproach.”

McFee even names his daughter, Samantha, after one of Tolkien’s most beloved characters, Sam Gamgee. After his daughter has grown up, McFee does not particularly like it that she has fallen in love with an Iraq war veteran, Daniel Baxter, as he wants to still protect her and be the main influence in her life.

In The Chronicles of Ara: Creation, back in Tolkien’s era, when he has retired, he is asked about the genuineness and validity of a supposedly “lost” book that has been one of the greatest influences on his writing, namely Beowulf. This seemingly innocuous validation by Tolkien leads to a violent backlash. Many of history’s most important and influential works and authors, it is discovered, have contained warnings about the goddess and muse, Ara. Her intention is to bring about a return to “dragon-scorched earth,” a time chronicled as “The Pre-Genesis Era.”

The goddess/muse, Ara, has secretly served as the inspiration for mankind’s greatest works of literature. Some would call Ara a “corrupted muse.” Eisenberg and Hillard write about her influence over the eras in their epic fantasy, The Chronicles of Ara: Creation. While Ara has inspired countless works of literature and art, it seems that one of her main aims has little to do with humanity, as it is to bring about the return of the age of dragons, a return to a time when they ruled supreme, like in Mirkwood. For fans of fantasy on a grand and epic scale, The Chronicles of Ara: Creation is a Must Read.
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The Four Horsemen of the Investor's Apocalypse: The Four Evils That Will Crush Your Portfolio, and How to Fight Them by Robert J. Klosterman Cfp

Douglas Cobb, July 19, 2015

The Four Horsemen of the Investor’s Apocalypse by Robert J. Klosterman, CFP, is a book that all investors should read and learn from, as it deals with four of the deadliest hindrances to investors finding success in their efforts to preserve wealth and maintain growth over time. The book is rightly subtitled “The Four Evils That Will Crush Your Portfolio, and How to Fight Them,” because the four hindrances that Klosterman details have often caused the best laid plans of investors to go terribly astray.

What are these four horsemen? To put it simply, they are Inflation, Volatility, Groupthink, and Global Displacements and Transformations. Any one of them can prove to be disastrous to the portfolios of investors, and if any of them act in combination with each other, a potentially bad situation can get much worse.

The astute author of The Four Horsemen of the Investor’s Apocalypse goes into detail about how each of the four horsemen can derail what might seem, on the surface, to be reasonably sound investment strategies. The good news is that Klosterman offers suggestions about how to deal with and overcome the evil, deceptive, and threatening forces that could otherwise possibly lay waste to the landscape of what investors might perceive to be carefully tended gardens of future wealth and income.

In easy to understand, brief, to the point chapters, Klosterman relates anecdotes, provides spreadsheets and diagrams, and allows the readers of his helpful informative guidebook access to his four decades of knowledge and experience as a financial planner. While nothing is ever 100 percent guaranteed, Klosterman’s book is a good reference to raise awareness in the minds of investors about why apparently wise investment strategies might not be as sound as they might think, when more closely analyzed, and it is a guide to ways of avoiding becoming prey to the four horsemen and to have a better chance at being successful in the investing world.

Klosterman warns readers that the book is not for people who are interested in “get rich quick” schemes. It is for people who want “to preserve the wealth you have.” It is designed, as Klosterman puts it, to help people preserve a certain “standard of living.” It also is meant to aid investors in finding the right people to help them do this, and it goes into key things that investors should be wary of as they attempt to achieve their goals.

The first chapter of The Four Horsemen of the Investor’s Apocalypse is called “Rules of Thumb and Other Urban Myths.” Right from the very beginning of Klosterman’s book, he gets into certain beliefs that many investors have, and explains why they should not always be believed. He writes that “most of us will take the easy way,” when given a choice; but, for people who have been investing for the long term over several years, wise investors have become aware that the supposed “easy” way or answer often “has hidden costs and consequences.”

Right away, Klosterman discusses the first of the four horsemen, Inflation, and how it sometimes relates to what many people consider to be a “Rule of Thumb” when investing -- that is, the percentage that a person has invested in stocks should be 100 - the person’s Age = Percentage in Stocks. That might sound wise or sound, but, as Klosterman writes, this 100 - Age rule “ignores the impact of inflation over time.” Because of this, investors are left with no protection against the first of the four horsemen, Inflation.

The Four Horsemen of the Investor’s Apocalypse by Robert J. Klosterman is an invaluable resource guide to increasing investor awareness of each of the four horsemen most often responsible for waylaying the wealth investors already have. Instead, he goes into methods of defeating the horsemen and maintaining and growing the wealth of investors into even bigger nest eggs. Klosterman’s book is a Must Read for anyone who is interested in avoiding some of the numerous pitfalls that investors face, and making sure that the four horsemen have as minimal of an impact on their investments as possible.
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Count to a Trillion
Count to a Trillion

Douglas Cobb, January 1, 2012

Count To A Trillion by John C. Wright is one of the best, if not the best, science fiction novels of 2011. Wright's novel Orphans of Chaos was nominated for a Nebula Award; I believe that Count To A Trillion will also be nominated, and will win. It's the first of a trilogy, and follows the life of the Texan Menelaus Montrose from his early childhood on to his journey through space to an alien artifact enscribed on every inch with messages that, if and when deciphered, could mean the salvation of the Earth and of mankind.

America has fallen into the status of an almost Third-World nation cue to economic collapse, a terrible man-made winter called the Japanese Winter that has lasted for several years, bioterrorism, and the rising of the technologies of other nations across the world.

Menelaus's mother is strict, and deterministic about her views of the roles of males and females. She brings up Menelaus desiring the best education possible for him, and he is a natural mathematical prodigy from an early age. He has in his personal elctronic library, besides the classics of literature, the cartoon series about a more peace-filled, perfect ideal of the future, called Asymptote. Asymptote, as described by the author and Menelaus, has many references to some of the original Star Trek episodes. Menelaus's mother forces him to delete the entire series, which devastates him; but, Menelaus never gives up the hope of a better future for mankind and for himself, and he tries to doo his best to make this future come true.

Count To A Trillion is an exciting, page-turning beginning to John C. Wright's trilogy. Menelaus's attempts to bring about a better futre include injecting his own brain with a substance to further enhance his intelligence, in the hopes that he will be able to decipher enough of the alien messages on the Monument to make the sort of future Asymptote depicts come true. In the desire to bring about a more peaceful future, Menelaus risks it all--even his own life and sanity. It's one of the year's best SF novels--check it out!
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Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey
Haunting Violet

Douglas Cobb, July 10, 2011

Communicating with the dead �" ghosts - might seem a blessing to some people. To sixteen-year-old Violet Willoughby, though, in the historical/supernatural YA novel Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, it’s more like a curse.

While growing up, Violet has participated in too many fake seances conducted by her mother, conning the rich and gullible out of their money, to believe that ghosts are real. But as she approaches sixteen and her mother is invited to conduct seances at the country estate of the renowned Spiritualist Lord Jasper, she discovers that ghosts think that she is real. She finds it’s difficult to ignore the vision of a ghost her own age, Rowena, dripping water from her incorporeal body, smelling of lilacs, seeking justice from beyond.

Set in England during the 1800s, Haunting Violet is a page-turning supernatural novel but also a romantic one. Though Violet, her mother and her “brother,” Colin (a teen from Ireland her mother “adopted” by taking him off the streets and a life of pickpocketing to survive), move in the wealthy circles of the peerage among earls and lords and ladies of the realm, they aren’t really from that world of wealth and privilege by birth.

They are looked down upon by many of the people Violet’s mother seeks to cultivate as clients, those who see through Violet’s mother’s attempts to pass off studied knowledge of etiquette and rejuvenated secondhand clothing as signs that they somehow fit in.

While her mother uses Violet and Colin to help her produce various supernatural effects for her seances, she also partakes too much in alcohol and flirts outrageously with the men at Lord Jasper’s estate, hoping to land herself a rich husband. Whenever Violet isn’t helping with a seance, her mother seems to consider her more of a nuisance just getting in the way. She does, however, scheme to marry Violet off to the handsome Xavier Trethewey.

Violet is not opposed to this idea, as he comes from a rich family (though not one of the peerage) and he seems to be nice, as well as handsome. She warns him that she has no dowry, but he dismisses her concern: “You are quite ten times more beautiful than any other girl in England. Let that be your dowry!”

Colin clearly likes Violet and tries to dissuade her from going along with her mother’s plans to marry Violet off to Xavier. He derogatorily refers to Xavier as Violet’s “prince” and argues that if he or his parents ever learn the truth about her and her mother, they would want nothing to do with her.

As Colin is getting older, he has also become more handsome and muscular; one day when he kisses her, Violet finds herself liking the way he kisses even better than how Xavier kisses. As a result, not only does she have Rowena’s persistent attempts to get Violet’s attention to expose her killer to deal with. She’s also in emotional turmoil as she decides who would make a better marriage partner - Xavier or Colin.

Violet and her friend Elizabeth, the daughter of an earl, enjoy such things on Lord Jasper’s estate that young women of the age would normally enjoy, like homemade strawberry ice cream and dressing up for fancy balls. Violet at first doesn’t want to tell Elizabeth or anyone else about the visions of Rowena (not to mention other ghosts clamoring for her attention when they figure out she can see and hear them) dripping water all over, with bruises around her neck, as if someone has strangled her.

Tabitha, Rowena’s twin sister, is aloof and mean towards Violet, and she doesn’t want Violet around. Is it because she is jealous, or because she is afraid that Violet might be getting closer to uncovering the truth?

Alyxandra Harvey takes the reader back to 1800s’ England; Violet reminds me of a Jane Austen heroine, had Austen ever decided to write novels about the paranormal. Haunting Violet is a witty, suspenseful novel of the supernatural that I highly recommend.
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The Osiris Ritual (Newbury & Hobbes Investigations) by George Mann
The Osiris Ritual (Newbury & Hobbes Investigations)

Douglas Cobb, January 1, 2011

Be like the Egyptians (walk like them if you want). Investigate, and get wrapped up in your work, along with Queen Victoria’s top agents, Sir Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes. Learn how the Egyptians tried to extend life indefinitely by rites and rituals attributed to the god Osiris. And, track down a rogue agent, half-man, half-machine, just returned from years living undercover in Russia. It’s easy enough to pick up his trail: he’d be the one who smells of rotting flesh. These two cases, along with one Veronica takes on involving a villainous magician and doctor with a taste for murdering young women, add up to a suspenseful page-turning novel that’ll keep you reading until late into the night. The Osiris Ritual is George Mann’s second installment in his Newbury & Hobbes Investigations series, combining the Supernatural and Mystery genres.

Set in 1902, three months after the events of the first novel, The Osiris Ritual starts off with the opening of a unique Egyptian sarcophagus with a mummy inside that is highly unusual: its eyes were stitched shut, and the mouth is “wide open in a silent, millennia-long scream.” As much as the strange mummy intrigues Newbury, he cannot dwell on it because he was asked by the Queen to meet the agent William Ashford, who is perhaps more machine than human thanks to a bizarre mutilation by his predecessor, Knox. Meanwhile, Veronica is handling a case of women who have gone missing. The only link seems to be that they all attended a magic show and volunteered for the Disappearing Lady trick. Her primary mission given to her by the Queen, however, is to watch over Newbury and try to make sure he doesn’t let the laudanum he takes and his involvement in the occult turn him into the same sort of person as Knox. Yet she can’t help but to identify with the missing women and want to prevent any more women from becoming victims.

This splitting up of cases is one of the major ways The Osiris Ritual differs from the first novel in the series, The Affinity Bridge. For all of his Sherlock Holmes-like intellect, Newbury has only ever thought of Veronica as his assistant. It’s not until late in this novel that he gets the revelation that Veronica is also an agent. The two of them are attracted to each other, and Newbury has considered telling Veronica this, but hasn’t so far in the series. His learning of Veronica’s keeping the secret from him that she’s been, in effect, spying on him, no matter what the motive might be, causes him to wonder if he can trust her.

One loose end (I think of it as one, at any rate) from The Affinity Bridge continues in The Osiris Ritual. That is, zombie-like victims of a plague brought over from India, revenants, still roam the foggy streets of London, claiming victims. The revenants are a major part of The Affinity Bridge’s plot, and Newbury himself gets bitten by one of them and he is treated by Dr. Fabian. The plague doesn’t end in the first novel–it continues on in The Osiris Ritual–but it’s not a big part of the plot, and is only mentioned in passing. I found this kind of curious, and I wondered why the author didn’t either come up with some reason why the plague ended, or why it continues on. This loose end didn’t detract from the rest of George Mann’s excellent second novel in the series for me, but it is something I kept thinking might be resolved by the conclusion of The Osiris Ritual, though it never was–perhaps Mann is planning on taking this up again and making it an important part of the plot of the third novel in his series.

The Osiris Ritual is a heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing combination of the Steampunk and detective genres, the twisted but ultra-cool result of a literary genetic experiment gone wild. Maybe a good name for this hybrid might be Holmes-punk (hyphenated to be sure one takes care in dividing the syllables when it’s pronounced out loud). George Mann is a worthy successor to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and fans of Steampunk and page-turning thrillers should check out both this and The Affinity Bridge.
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