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Fear by Woodward

I’ve been asked by several people why I would even read this book. After all, we already have two sensational, and likely self-serving, books on President Trump (that I didn’t read). We already have mainstream media’s constant attacks on the President. We already have Trump’s Twitter feed. What more can I get from this? The answer and goal I always have is the same: the truth. The question is, does this book provide the truth? I’m not sure.

by Bob Woodward
Simon & Schuster
September 2018

I did a lot of research on Woodward. The stuff he became known for is before my time: I wasn’t alive during Watergate. I was a child during Reagan and a young adult (who wasn’t paying attention) during Clinton. I wanted to make sure I was reading a “real” journalist’s account because I was tired of the sensational and self-serving. According to his press, Woodward seems like the real deal and one who may be above the squabbling and divisiveness of the current culture wars, which is important to me.

Over the last decade, our shared American culture has fractured. Social Media echo chambers reinforce and magnify myopic views that ignore the big picture, like someone taking and posting pictures of the hub caps on their beater car. The rise of citizen journalism, a good thing, has given bad actors a new platform to abuse the truth that along with the open political advocacy of publications – right and left – has worked to degrade trust in fact-based reporting. Pundits and opinion “journalists” have only made it worse as we seem to have more activist pundits than actual journalists in media and print. Bill O’Reilly may have made “the no spin zone” a popular phrase for a generation of watchers but he did so while continuing to spin himself. Everyone spins. Everyone is biased. But like the detective of old, what we really need, I think, is “just the facts, ma’am.”

In this culture of fear, suspicion, and distrust, I want to know what to believe. I’ve heard Trump give speeches. I’ve read transcripts. I know what he says and what he didn’t say (but is reported to have meant, which is dangerous to assume.) I know his voice and how he speaks. I think I know his character. What I’d like to know is if what I perceive is accurate of the President. Woodward is the best shot we have, I think, of finding that out.

But can we trust Woodward and his anonymous sources? On the plus side, we get information that we probably wouldn’t get otherwise for fear of reprisal. Anonymous sources drive most of the insider investigative reporting I’ve read or listened to. Not knowing the name of the leaker doesn’t mean it isn’t true. But on the negative side, I see several really big drawbacks, the biggest of these is if the journalist or the sources are driven by agendas. This is the one I’m most concerned with. If Woodward wanted to cash in his reputational chips, he could do a ton of damage to Trump here and maybe even justify to himself that the lies are worth it since he may believe something like “Trump is damaging the dream of America more than any terrorist attack ever could” (Joe Scarborough, published by the Washington Post on 9/11/18, the same paper that Woodward is an associate editor at and on the same day his book was released). We would never know that he was lying, if he did.

We have no assurance that the people he interviewed weren’t lying. For instance, there are scenes where we read the thoughts of people, like Lindsey Graham’s when talking to Trump. Something like, “Graham thought that [fill in the blank]…” Assuming this is actually happened, we could only know his thoughts if Graham was the source or someone who Graham told his thoughts to was the source. Graham has not been a fan of Trump and has made his feelings very clear during the 2016 campaign. Many of the stories with Graham make him out to be reasonable and willing to work with people he doesn’t like/agree with, and a few more make him look like a callous political elite who is fine with a million people dying in South Korea rather than in the US (according to one story.) Is someone trying to make Graham look a certain way? Is he? We don’t know. It is likely that many, if not most, of the people interviewed for the book no longer work at the White House (it seems likely that Bannon is a source since there are several Bannon and Trump private conversations recounted), or never did and maybe never were a fan (see Graham as an example.)

The only thing I know for sure is this: if these stories are accurate then there is a lot to be concerned about. I’m no politician, but I know NATO is one of the most important alliances in the history of humanity. I don’t get briefed by national security advisors, but I understand that strategic positioning of troops and military assets, including THADD installations, in South Korea are more important than the cost of upkeep. The list goes on. Trump’s statements, if true, are significantly more dangerous to national security than Gary Johnson’s “what is Aleppo?” comment, but in the same vein.

But what does all this mean? Joan Didion, in 1996 (New York Review of Books,) called Woodward’s reporting “political pornography.” While vulgar, it’s hard to say that this book can’t fit that description. Woodward recounts a series of stories, told by people we don’t know and we can’t know how they spun the stories according to their unknown agenda, that readers who already despise Trump will get a perverse pleasure from reading what may be true but what is certainly gossip. Others, who want to know the truth about what’s going on, will ultimately end up with a lot more information, but no more certainty.

While reading this, I was reminded once again of Proverb 18:17, “The first to speak in court sounds right–until the cross-examination begins.” This is Truth. Woodward’s book is… maybe true or maybe not.

My friends were right. Why did I read this book?

Hell to Pay by Chmilenko

Book 2 of Ascend Online was very different than book 1. Unlike most series, it seems that Chmilenko is focused on the world of the game (and perhaps the battle between in-game sister “gods” Order and Chaos) rather than the players.

Hell To Pay
Ascend Online 2
by Luke Chmilenko
Ætherworld Productions
April 2017

In book 2, the setting changes to the nearby (three days away) large city briefly discussed in book 1, and the goings-on of one of the Thieves Guilds and two players in the guild. It’s also more of a mystery as the story begins with our anonymous hero waking up in a torture room with a new magical sigil on his chest and his guild master dead. He doesn’t remember anything from the point that he took on a quest called The Heist. How a human player could actually have their memory wiped by the game is confusing and scary – both to the players in the story and to the reader.

Interestingly, the characters in this book never interact with the characters in book 1 – and that’s fine with me. This thriller was significantly more than the normal introductory story, allowing book 1’s explanation of the game and the world to suffice so we could jump right in to the new characters.

A down side to this Ascend Online, in terms of LitRPG, is that it seems to make no effort to tell any part of the story outside the game. So it’s simply a fantasy book with gaming stats and some pseudo third wall breaking. Even though it is much better written than The Dark Herbalist series, I find the real lives of the players to add to the main story and avoiding any consideration of that part of our main characters is a weakness so far in Ascend Online. Still, the third book is in my queue and I’m excited to jump in to it.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

The Dark Herbalist series

Freedom’s Light by Coble

Hannah Thomas is a young lady married to John. They take care of the lighthouse on a remote stretch of the coast line in Massachusetts. It is just the beginning of the Revolutionary War and John volunteers to go fight for his new country. Hannah’s world comes crashing down when she learned John has been killed in his first battle.

Freedom’s Light
Coleen Coble
Thomas Nelson
September 2018

Hannah is determined to continue John’s duties of maintaining the lighthouse and prevent ships from wrecking on the rocks close to shore. The work is hard and the isolation and loneliness is getting to her. She convinces her father to send her young sister Lydia, who lives in the South, for a visit. This may or may not have been a good ideal. Lydia is a Torry and really enthralled by the English soldiers. Hannah is a strong Patriot.

One dark and foggy night a British ship runs aground on the rocks and there is only one survivor – Captain Birch Meredith. He is injured and Hannah takes him into her home until he is well and able to return to his duties. The Caption, of course, is a Torry which causes Hannah a great deal of concern.

Everything is going reasonably well until Lydia invites Galen Wright, an officer in the British Army, and a long time friend of the family, to visit. Hannah is furious. She had a bad experience with Galen in the past and she was afraid of him.

Question: Will Hannah survive the War and find the peace and love she so richly deserves?

Ms. Coble has written an interesting story of a little mystery, a lot of intrigue and romance. Thoroughly enjoyed Hannah’s journey and highly recommend to all readers. Coble is a masterful story teller and will keep you guessing to the very end.

Mary Asher, the Golden Reviewer, is a founding book blogger for and has generously provided this review. She describes herself as “an 88 year young great-grandmother and an avid reader.”

This book was provided by the publisher for review.

Salvage by Scudiere

CJ and Walter Reed have been recruited by the Special Agent in charge of the elite Nightshade Group to become agents. The only drawback is that they must both pass the training at Quantico as partners.

The Shadow Files #5
by A.J. Scudiere
Griffyn Ink
July 2018

Training begins and some how they manage to exist without killing each other. Walter is an ex-marine and CJ is a scientist. CJ’s grandfather is a well respected scientist. His personal lab has always intrigued CJ because of the weird bones he worked on. One secret trip to the lab revealed a body of a member of the Nightshade Group. What had her grandfather done and why is the body in his lab?

Now the trial under fire begins. CJ and Walter are pulled out of training and sent to a small town in the Ozarks. Some group of rebels are killing people in that area. They are on their own without the help of a seasoned agent. They are literally fighting for their lives.

As the evidence starts to pile up, it becomes clear that a person very close to CJ is responsible. Will she be able to do her job and bring the guilty person to justice?

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is definitely a page-turner. Highly recommend it.

This is the fifth book in the Nightshade Series. I recommend you read all five. AJ is an excellent writer and keep readers in suspense from page one to the end. One book and you will be a fan for live. Can’t wait for AJ’s next book to come out.

Mary Asher, the Golden Reviewer, is a founding book blogger for and has generously provided this review. She describes herself as “an 88 year young great-grandmother and an avid reader.”

This book was provided by the publisher for review.

Salvage Trouble by Morin

From the publisher: Carl Ramsey has a starship to run. Down on his luck, struggling to pay the cost of fuel, he’s just looking for some quick, easy cash. While looting the wreck of a passenger ship, they discover that one escape pod never ejected, and the passengers are still alive. A routine salvage job turns into a rescue mission, and a good deed never goes unpunished. With two refugees aboard, Captain Carl Ramsey finds that his ship, the Mobius, has a target painted on its hull. Someone is after the new passengers, and willing to stop at nothing to get them back.

Salvage Trouble
Black Ocean #1
by J. S. Morin
Magical Scrivener Press
October 2015

My take: Interestingly, Morin calls his books, “episodes” which makes a ton of sense because each story, really novella at about 150 pages or so, are very much like what you’d expect to see on TV, especially the golden age of SyFy’s in-house shows like Lexx, Dark Matter, and Farscape. Add magic to science fiction space ship based television and this is what you’d get. And it’s not bad, but it’s also not deep.

In this story, we meet the crew, especially Captain Ramsey, as they attempt to salvage a ship that had been attacked. They thought it was empty, but it turns out that there was one escape pod left on the ship with a Barbie doll-like priestess and a teenager who may not be who he seems to be. Turns out the priestess kidnapped the teen to save him and to shed light on the genetic experiments going on at their school. The normal obstacles come up – the galactic authorities board them, hirelings attack them, and so on – until an all too quick resolution involving magic, subterfuge and quick talking by the Captain. I said “of course” in my mind so many times during that sentence. This isn’t epic, or dark, or hard science fiction. But it’s fun. So I’ll keep reading the series and see if it develops more.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Twain

I haven’t read many Twain books. In fact, this may be the first time I’ve read one all the way through. And I have to admit that it wasn’t easy to get through. The beginning was interesting enough, but the loooooong middle section was so uneventful that even Twain jumps forward a few years at one point.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
by Mark Twain

I was struck by the fact that this book wouldn’t work with today’s audience for another reason as well: he just knows too much about things that we don’t. For instance, he creates a telegraph and phone line system, wires for power, creates factories and schools, manufactures bicycles and other tools. How many of us today know how to do any of those things? We get stuck with King Arthur’s court and we, what? Argue about political correctness on a Twitter made from stone carvings (there isn’t a printing press, no one can read, and paper as we know it doesn’t exist.) We’d be killed. I mean the guy knew the date of the eclipse from that year hundreds of years before his time. I don’t even remember the exact date of the one that happened here last August. Was it August?

The story ends in an unexpected and stunted way. I had to go back to the end and the beginning to make it all make sense. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s just so abrupt. And sad.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Unbelievable by Katy Tur

I don’t normally read books like this, but the Trump phenomenon over the last several years is so seismic (or yuge) and because the book was on sale, I felt that I had to give it a shot.

by Katy Tur
Dey Street Books
September 2017

I’d heard some of the complaints by Trump about “Little Katy” during the campaign but didn’t understand what was going on. I don’t watch the news on cable or TV and had almost no experience with who this reporter was or her role in covering the Trump campaign. I almost stopped reading during the first couple chapters. Tur came across exactly how I had worried she might – argumentative, vulgar at times, and – most importantly – clearly biased. I had no interest in reading a book by someone with an axe to grind. But I was listening to this book – thanks Audible! – while playing Elder Scrolls Online so I left it playing while I became the Scarlet Judge. After a couple hours at 155% speed I was about half way through the book and had overcome my concerns. Oh, Tur is definitely biased and she I believe she definitely has an attitude (she narrates and I believe it’s clear in her tone). But she is also really interesting.

The background of what happened at key interviews and campaign stops was fascinating. Recognizing her bias and taking that into account I can say that this book was worth reading/listening for the first hand insight into the campaign and how Trump thinks (which may be extrapolated by how he acts in conjunction with Tur’s opinion.)

I’m not sure I’ll read other books by Tur in the future – or other books about Trump or his campaign – but as a one-time, sale-induced read it wasn’t bad.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

12 Rules for Life by Peterson

No matter what you think of Dr. Peterson there is no doubt at all that he is a worldwide phenomenon with sold out speaking tours all around the Western world, YouTube and social media accounts in the millions of views each month as well as this bestselling book. It would be foolish to read just our favorite news sources’ opinions of him when there is so much he publishes himself. So reading his book was a no brainer! And I’m glad I did.

12 Rules for Life
by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson
Random House Canada
January 2018

Dr. Peterson blends an interesting mix of history (especially totalitarian history) with philosophy, religion and mythology all held together by psychology. So while some chapters may seem like they would go the normal self-help route he takes a long detour around his vast knowledge of these topics to provide insight into why he thinks we ought to do the things we do. In the meantime, we get good advice, some of it used to be called common sense, as well as lessons in all kinds of disciplines. I think that’s important. Too often, readers are told to simply trust the author because, well, they wrote the book after all. But why should I trust someone I don’t know? But make the case with authorities and evidence I can check myself or that I do know and I’m willing to bite. Peterson does that. Well.

I made the decision to listen to him on audiobook and it’s the way I’d recommend it to anyone. I love listening to authors read their own work – see Al Gore, President Clinton, President Bush, President Carter, Katy Tur – because you can hear what they really mean and how they really feel by their emphasis and tonal changes. I could hear the passion that Dr. Peterson felt when discussing certain topics as well as the pain. For instance, when he spoke about his daughter’s suffering.

Controversy and politics aside, there is no good reason I can think of not to listen to or read this book. His 12 Rules, if followed, can’t possibly be bad for anyone. Quite the contrary, in fact. We could all use more advice and urging to make the most of ourselves, fix ourselves before we try to fix the world (and in fact, fixing ourselves is probably the best kind of fixing the world there is,) focus on what’s good and make the time we spend with people matter by listening well and recognizing that they have something to teach us. There is so much in this book that’s extremely positive I recommend it highly.

A note about religion, especially Christianity. One thing that does vex Christians, myself included, is whether Dr. Peterson is actually a Christian in the born again/ giving his life to Christ way, rather than the respect for Christ and God, theist or Universalist way. I thought I had him figured out most of the way through the book as someone who follows Christianity because of what it represents – every character and story is archetypical or represents a greater truth. If that’s true only, and I’m trying to be precise here, then his faith may not be Christianity as we know it. But then towards the end of the book I’m certain I heard more personal faith in both his tone and his words. He points to the Bible throughout without directly proselytizing, but at times, especially in the Pet the Cat section and following, he seems to open up a little more about what his faith does for him. If that’s true and I wasn’t reading into him, then it’s possible that Dr. Peterson may be discussing Christianity in a way that won’t put off readers who don’t believe, while not specifically hiding what he does, but simply using what he understands about Christianity in ways that bolster his claims for universal truths in his Rules. So after reading this long book as listening to many of his YouTube videos and podcasts I am back where I was at the start: I have no idea what kind of Christianity Dr. Peterson has. Regardless, this is not a “Christian” book. But it is a good book. I’ll have to live with the ambiguity of Dr. Peterson’s cat-ness, here.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

A Trap for the Potentate by Atamanov

This is book 3 in the Dark Herbalist series with Amra, the goblin herbalist, and his plotline testers. Continuing after book 2, Amra has turned his sights to defeating the challenging quest to go to the end of the river Styx – a challenge that no group of players have yet won. Along the way, several plotholes open up very wide as Tim has to deal with real world enemies as a local gang takes out a hit on him and he loses his girlfriend early in the book when she completely disappears from the story. The ending – and so far there isn’t a fourth book, but it can’t possibly be done – is far too quick and leaves a lot to be desired.

A Trap for the Potentate
Dark Herbalist #3
by Michael Atamanov
Magic Dome Books
January 2018

Now that I’ve read three LitRPG books, all from Michael Atamanov, I’ve decided on two important conclusions: First, I really don’t think Atamanov is doing a good job writing a story. It’s completely possible that the fourth book will solve many of the outstanding issues, including, importantly, why Amra wins at everything. But I’m not sure that’s the case. He writes women like caricatures of Instagram models. They are there to be beautiful (every woman is) and interested in him (every woman is), while whining and complaining (every woman does) the whole time. There isn’t a three dimensional character in the book. Maybe his AI online girlfriend, Tiesha. Maybe.

Second, I like LitRPG and am totally feeling the itch to play RPGs. I’ve started another author’s LitRPG and am looking for others. There has to be a good LitRPG author and story. I’m a huge fan of Sword Art Online (season 1, especially), so I know this is possible.

If there is a fourth book, I’ll read it just to see if things wrap up. But I have low expectations right now.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.

Stay on the Wing by Atamanov

This is book 2 in the Dark Herbalist series with Amra, the goblin herbalist, and his plotline testers. This story picks up right where the first one ends with Tim (Amra’s player’s real name), his sister, his girlfriend and friends playing an online VR MMORPG.

Stay on the Wing
Dark Herbalist #2
by Michael Atamanov
Magic Dome Books
June 2017

In part two, other players who watch Amra’s video stream become upset that Amra, a small, weak new player, somehow gets a unique flying mount in the game so the game company decides to put the mount up for grabs to any player who can hunt and kill Amra. The majority of the book is the story of Amra running from the other players, including a large portion of the book where Amra becomes a pirate captain with an orc army. Like the first book, Amra continues his long trek towards awesomeness as just about everything works out for him.

The first book in this series was my first experience in LitRPG or GameLit a sub genere that tells a story through the perspective of a game player – usually a VR player in the near future. Books like Ready Player One or other books with VR as an integral plot device aren’t the same thing as LitRPG. The focus on LitRPG novels is the game playing and RPG leveling aspects. In fact, in this series, the plotline tester aspect of the books was all about the company showing people that playing a goblin herbalist was fun and worthy of their time. The story is constantly interrupted with skill updates, character leveling, experience, game notifications, and other aspects of RPG gaming that gamers know and appreciate. I’m not sure other readers will understand as well or appreciate things. The biggest thing that non-gamers need to know if that the vast majority of how this “game” goes is wrong. No one wins as much as Amra does. Nothing goes wrong for him. Nothing. Even when he makes a mistake the game somehow adapts what he did and makes it a win for him. Real games as grind, loss, playing, fun, loss, grind and loss.

I bought books 2 and 3 at the same time. Otherwise, I’d likely not finish these fun but vapid stories.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of and a believer, a husband, a dad, a geek, an artist, a gamer, a teacher, a learner and tired.