Review: Forensics for Dummies

Forensics for DummiesForensics for Dummies by D.P. Lyle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recently I finished reading Dr. Lyle’s book, Forensics for Dummies. Truth be told, I bought it because I am an author who likes infuse horror with mystery so crime is a mainstay in my genera. When I was in college, I studied law enforcement and had the opportunity to work as a law enforcement officer on the corrections side. This was a good many years ago and when I was writing my last novel, I realized some of my information was somewhat dated.

Dr. Lyle has done a great job in writing an easy to use guide on the basics of forensics. There were a lot of things I already knew. For example, I already knew some basic information on evidence collection. But I still read that section as I found it interesting.

He does a great job explaining some of the basics of pathogens, different types of gunshot wounds, and autopsies. There were a lot of things in the book that I either didn’t know, or had forgotten.
I really found the section on establishing the time of death particularly interesting. As a fiction author, dealing with time lines can be difficult and it is helpful if you can have something particularly gruesome to explain it.

I found this book easy to read, easy to cross reference, and just the right amount of science and places where Hollywood just gets it wrong. It was well written and logically organized. I would highly recommend Forensics for Dummies to anyone interested in the topic of forensics. I know that I will be referencing this book in future writing.

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Reflections of Europe

Since the summer of 2013, we’ve lived in Berlin Germany. Today marks the end of that grand adventure as we head home to Virginia. As you read this, we are likely somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on our w20150802_104444ay back. I know that for most the flight I’ll likely be reading or maybe writing something longhand. I never could sleep in moving vehicles.

But for weeks, before we left Germany, I thought about our grand adventure. I’m keenly aware that most Americans never get such an opportunity. So for this, I feel humbled and truly blessed. We spent three years exploring the European continent. Could we’ve seen more? Yeah, probably. But we still had school and jobs. I still have books to write and blogs to construct. For the moment, let me reflect on just what an adventure it has been.

When we started out on this journey, we had really one goal in mind, and that was to see Europe and expose the children to the rest of the world. I never wanted my kids to grow up to be the type of Americans who believe the world rises and sets on their hometown and there is nothing else. Some people never leave their own home county. I don’t blame them for that, but I wanted my kids to see the rest of the world. I’m happy to say, we accomplished that.

There is tremendous value in being in a country where you don’t speak the language and have to communicate. Sitting on a park bench and watching unusual customs pass you by is impossible to put a value on. We have done these things, and more.

I’m a little sad that it’s all coming to an end, but we are happy to be returning home. I think we are better for having made the trip out here. During this time, a lot has changed. I suspect we will be fundamentally different from our experiences out in Europe in ways that we still don’t comprehend. In spite of our troubles, I still think America is the greatest country on earth.

Here are some interesting facts.

We visited 14 sovereign nations; Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany (of course), Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Rome, Spain, and Slovakia.

I would try to tell you how many cities we have visited, but that would be impossible. However, let me give you my top five.

Prague: If you ever have the chance to visit Prague, I’ll tell you to drop everything and go. It is a beautiful old East European city. Full of sights and sounds, there are lots of things to see and do. People have argued that it is becoming too commercialized and western, but it hasn’t lost its charm. Wander the streets and meet the people. They will be thrilled you made it out to their fair city. I highly recommend the Strahov Monastic Brewery. The food is excellent and the beer is the best I have had anywhere.

Warsaw: If you’re Polish, like me, you have to visit Warsaw. Yes, it is a dirty old big city, but there are wonderful museums to see everywhere. Check out the old Warsaw Palace. My kids loved it. Like Prague, it has tons of hidden gems to see. My personal favorite in Warsaw was the Polish Uprising Museum. If you ever want to feel pride in polish ancestry, that is the place to go. Don’t be surprised if every third person you meet has a relative living in Chicago. The Polish people are wonderful and really glad to see you.

Hamburg, Germany: I will forever have a soft spot for Hamburg. There is so much to see and do. If you like ships, I encourage you to take as many ship tours as you can. The dining is magnificent. You are getting into that Northern European cuisine in Hamburg so prepare for fish! Walking around the dock areas at night is brilliant and beautiful. I highly suggest visiting Hamburg if you have the chance.

Florence:  It would probably be better to say I just loved Tuscany, but Florence was great fun. There are all kinds of museums to see. It’s just one of those places you can just wander the streets and enjoy being there. Take some time to hang out by the river and watch the water go by. I highly recommend the Da Vinci Museum. Wave to him … he’ll wave back. SerVeniceiously, they have a couple of his fingers on display!

Venice: I fell in love with Venice as we approached on the water taxi. Wandering the streets, bridges, and occasionally elevated paths (when it floods once a month) you will see life at its most grand. Every morning supplies are delivered by boat to stores and shops. Kids take boats to school like buses. The police even patrol the “streets” in boats. I could spend two weeks in Venice, doing nothing, and be perfectly content. Yes, the locals can come across as abrupt, almost rude to an American, but once you get settled in and talk with them, they are wonderful people. Show them you are interested in Venice as a city and they will talk your ear off. They are intensely proud to be who they are. The Doge’s Palace is an amazing place to tour.

Here’s a Venice good tip. Get off the main tourist drag and find a restaurant to walk into. As one guide told us, “If someone is standing outside a restaurant and asking you if you want to come in, then just don’t.” The food will be tourist crap. In Venice, it’s common to eat finger foods for dinner. You order small dishes to eat and a glass of wine. Totally worth it. Once you get the hang of the chaos at the counter, you’ll be just fine.

But remember, the world doesn’t bow to you because you’re an American

Many European’s love Americans. But, remember that you are visitors in their space. I know, all too well, what is meant by the “Ugly American”. America is, I believe, the greatest country on planet earth. But every European believes that their country is the best place on earth too. Americans are wonderful people. We should be wonderful enough to know how to behave in places where we are the guest. Act civil, and you will be treated with civility.

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Europe has been a wonderful experience. There are lots of things going for it. It isn’t the quaint old world as it used to be, but it’s still worth checking out if you have the time.

It’s not all roses.

I fear there may be some rough times ahead for Europe, as it struggles with its own internal issues. Several of the countries in the EU are questioning the utility and practicality of the construct as old questions of sovereignty, and maybe some old wounds, are being re-opened. The Euro has some issues it has to deal with, particularly how much money the partner states are willing to fork out to save struggling economies. Immigration issues pervade and it’s a common topic on the street as I write this. These issues are, in my opinion, not insurmountable. In the end, the best idea could be to just dissolve the EU, but keep the good aspects of it. But, I’m not a politician. I wish all of Europe the best. But I fear there are some tough decisions to be made in the future.

Germany has been a great home. I really have enjoyed living here, although not always enjoyed living in Berlin. Berlin is a big city and that can be a little annoying. Germany is a free and open society in some respects, and very closed and insular in others. In Berlin, it’s not uncommon to see people sunbathing nude in the park while a group of eighteen-year-olds enjoy a beer in the beer garden with their friends. It’s strange to the American eye, but when you realize how open and ‘normal’ these things are, you come to appreciate them. But God help you if you try to mow your lawn on Sunday, or forget to have you train ticket stamped. *GASP*

Germany tends to carry a significant amount of emotional baggage. While it’s justified in one sense, I feel it’s really time to let the past become the past. While we observe the lessons of history, we need to be mindful of what the German nation has accomplished since the end of the Second World War. They have become a strong leader in Europe and are a military ally of the U.S. So, maybe we don’t always seeing eye to eye, but they’ve played an active role in the world and I think that is laudable. They have become a top tourist destination and a place known to be safe to travel in.

What I’m really getting at is that there is a preoccupation with Americans about WWII and I think it is borderline tasteless. Give Germany a break, that was a long time ago. Don’t forget the past, but don’t let it unjustly rule the future.

I don’t know when we will get back to Europe. But I suspect that we will be back sooner than I think. Now that the mystery of exploring Europe is gone, I really expect we will be visiting again and again. I highly encourage you to get out and see all it has to offer.

-Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Writer

P.S. When we arrived in Germany, in 2013,  my kids complained at a restaurant, “But we can’t read the menu! It’s all in German.” In 2015, we traveled Italy. None of us speaks Italian; however, not one of them complained. They just figured it out based on context clues and photos. Even if they didn’t get exactly what they wanted, they ate it and enjoyed it. They have gone from being “the ugly American travelers”, to being fully functional citizens of the world. I’m proud of that fact. I now know the kids, anywhere and anytime, can function. And that, as a parent, is really what it’s all about.

Saying Goodbye to An Old Friend

Greetings Everyone,

As I type this, I’m writing about an event 11 days in the future. Why am I doing it now? Simple, I really am not sure I am going to be able to do it the day of. So here goes …

Today I had to do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We had to take our dog, put her in our car, and drive her to the vet for her last appointment. As you’re reading this (on the 18th of June), Hannah, the greatest dog I’ve ever had, left this world in the most peaceful manner I could arrange. I can’t write this on the 18th because I’m going to be crying my eyes out.

Hannah came to us when our son was almost one-year-old. She lived to be about 16 ½. We bought her from the Rochester Humane Society in Minnesota. I wanted a dog to teach my children how to take care of an animal. I wanted them to know the joy I had, growing up with dogs. In the end the kids learned so much more.

im so tired
I’m so tired!

Hannah was my running partner for many years. She hiked a gazillion miles with us on many a trail. Faithful companion and family protector, she was truly a gift from God. I can tell you that a day won’t go by that I won’t think about her and how great she was.

We decided to put her down instead of trying to take her back to the United States because the plane trip might kill her. A 16 ½ year old lab is essentially ancient by Labrador standards and the risk was just too high. The doctor told us that if anything goes wrong with her, and I mean anything, there is nothing a doctor could do. She would just simply not heal. She was blind and deaf. She also had bouts where she would become very confused. In the end she couldn’t go up or down the stairs anymore. I couldn’t bear the thought of my scared, and potentially injured dog, dying in the cargo hold of an airplane. I couldn’t let that happen.

Hannah has been given daily medications to keep the pain from her old bones in check. But lately that hasn’t even been helping as completely as it had been. But we have been fortunate, she has been in good health her whole life.

Everyone should have a dog like Hannah. Yes, the pain is excruciating when you have to put her down. However, she had an excellent life. The miles of trails we walked, the camping trips, and the doggie nuzzles. We are better for having had her. I can honestly say that she was a gift to us far more than we were a gift to her.

Hannah, to you I say;

“Dear Sweet Girl, I love you dearly. You have been the greatest gift anyone could ask for. You helped raise the kids, protect our home, and gave love freely to those who simply didn’t deserve such unconditional love. Please go forth, without pain, sight and hearing restored, and live life eternal. Someday we shall meet again in the great beyond. I anxiously await that day. With the deepest of love, your human Family.”

It is my sincerest hope that everyone can have a pet in their lives they can miss this deeply. That means you have truly loved and truly been loved.

Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Writer

 

Delete the Word Hate From the Dictionary

The job of an artist is to show the world itself, through their chosen medium. Painters, use paint. Some artists work in chalk or pencil. Sculptors use metal, wood, stone, or other mediums to express their ideas. Writers use their words to try and place a mirror in front of humanity. It’s our job to expose every blemish and defect we can. Artists are supposed to make you think. So, let’s think about hating each other less.

I’ve stopped watching the news. This was not something new in my life, as a matter of fact, I really stopped watching the news on a regular basis about a year ago. I do check the internet once or twice a day to see if anything happened as I can’t completely remove myself from the world. I was shocked and appalled, as all of you were, by the events in Orlando.

I thought about those events since I first read the news story. I wanted to try and put my feelings into words if I could. Maybe, along the way, help you gain some perspective on it as well.

Facebook has exploded about this incident. Everyone offering arm-chair quarterback opinions, as if they were experts in terrorism or members of an elite swat team. The White House was quick to jump on it, as was several celebrities, religious organizations, lobbyists, and all manner of beast on planet earth.

After synthesizing everything I was reading, I came to my own conclusion. Humanity doesn’t have a lack of love; it has an abundance of hate.

Ask yourself this question, “How do we define hate?” One dictionary entry suggest that hate is to dislike intensely or passionately. I’d agree with that. But what does it really mean on a day to day basis? We use the word hate all the time.

  • “I hate going shopping.”
  • “I hate it when they forget to bring my drink.”
  • “I hate that waitress; she always stares at me.”
  • “I hate going to the department of motor vehicles.”

Okay, well maybe the last one I can see. But the rest are not really reasons to hate someone or something. Sure, maybe a little annoyed. But hate?

We banter that word around so much that it seems acceptable and normal to hate things. We raise our children with the words, “I hate”. They learn that it’s alright to hate something and eventually it’s okay to hate people. Sadly, they learn to hate groups of people as well.

Hate isn’t a condition we are born with. I once saw my son playing with a bunch of Lebanese children who didn’t speak a word of English. It took them about five minutes to come up with a way to communicate through the international language of playing. Lebanese or American, it didn’t matter. None of those children had enough hate in them to dislike one another. They just saw another kid and wanted to play with them. It was beautiful.

Jesus taught to love your neighbor as you would love yourself. I think, sadly, that could be a lofty goal. Maybe we start with something more basic. Try to hate less. It starts with all of us. The next time you see a man, or woman, begging for money, try and look them in the eye and smile at them. Even if you don’t give them money, try to see them as a human being. It’s tough to hate someone while you are smiling at them. Maybe you hold your tongue when your order isn’t quite right at the restaurant. Try to see it from the waiter’s point of view. Maybe this is the worst day of their lives and your smile is really all that got them through the day.

LGBT_Flag
In Memorial

Here’s the hard one. What groups do you ‘hate’? That man who killed those people in Orlando hated homosexuals. In my opinion, hating someone never gives you the right to kill them. I may not agree with certain aspects of certain lifestyles, but that doesn’t bar me from liking, or even loving members of that society. The shooter couldn’t see them as human beings. His hate made him blind to the humanity of his victims. Chances are, he was raised in an environment of hate. Even if he really didn’t like those people, he had an obligation to not harm them by virtue of us all belonging to the brotherhood of man.

Haters hate because it is way easier than loving someone. It’s true. Love is an active stance towards someone. Loving someone means you have to do something for them. You have to make sure they are taken care of. Hating means you distance yourself from them, they are no longer your concern because you don’t care what happens to them. Perhaps it’s possible that just not hating someone is a good middle ground to start from. Maybe, that’s the one thing that will get us away from the sad events which took place in Orlando and move us towards a different reality where we can all keep from killing one another in the streets.

I’m no saint. I have a long way to go to learn to lighten my own hate load. It’s still easier for me to hate certain groups of people than to just accept them as human beings. But I am trying. Maybe it’s something as simple as volunteering at the food bank, or maybe a refugee center. Or maybe it truly is as simple as eliminating the word ‘hate’ from our vocabulary.

-Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Writer

Urgent Political/Literary Update

****From the Candidate’s Headquarters****

My fellow Americans. There are times when we, as a nation, must act. And today we must act! I have decided to suspend my campaign effective immediately. I do this not because I love my country less that the other person, but because I feel a deeper calling. I have recently been introduced to the peril we face, as a nation, from fictional serial killers.

I urge you, all citizens of the English speaking world, to drop what you are doing and follow my lead. We should must take the time to enrich ourselves through literature. Look no further and read The Dramatic Dead. Remember, the knowledge you gain may save your life. Or, at least entertain you for a while.

 

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Buy “The Dramatic Dead” today!

-The Candidate

*This message was endorsed by Bryan the Writer!

Overwhelmed, but Excited

Sometimes I like to sit back in my chair and pretend to smoke a pipe and sip coffee. I wax poetic about the challenges and philosophical aspects of being an independent author. Then there are times that I feel like the little girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, singing, “I don’t care how! I want it now!”

Things can move at a glacial pace and other times I feel like the world is moving so fast I hardly have time to keep up. For Bryan the Writer, it seems like that lately. The world is moving along at an amazing speed and I’m having a hard time keeping up with all of you!  But, that’s okay. I’m happy to recap!

You can always go get a copy of either “No Name” or “The Dramatic Dead” on Amazon. People are loving “The Dramatic Dead”, my second book. Don’t take my word for it … go check it out for yourself!

 The Dramatic Dead 2

Some Exciting News!

Ladies and gents, come out and meet me. I have, on the schedule so far, three big events you can come out and see me at. I’ll have books for sale (and a special event price), for signing.

I am honored to be part of the Horror Writer’s Association. And, as such, I am pleased to be participating in the Scares that Care Weekend. This is a charitable organization that helps families in need. It is a very worthy cause which allows us, as a community to make a difference, and meet others in the business of horror.

I am through the roof about this event. An annual event celebrating authors. I am happy to be part of the event in their New Author’s area. Please, I encourage you to come and find me!

This is the 1st annual event. It is taking place at Riverfront Park. If you’ve never been down to Fredricksburg (Fredburg as we call it), then this is your chance. It is a delightful place. We love to just wander around and see all the wonderful history and shops. And, of course, you can come on out and see me!

 Works in Progress

Presently, I am putting the final touches on my next book, Crimson Tassels. I expect to have it available sometime late summer. I’ve contracted with my normal graphic artist to come up with a killer (pun-intended) cover.

For those of you who have contacted me about the next book in The Dramatic Dead series, I’m happy to say that I am in the process of writing it. So far, I’m happy with the way it’s coming along. My goal is to have it available late fall or early winter. I don’t have a working title for it yet.

More to come from Bryan the Writer, but for now I have to get back to writing. Have a great weekend everyone!

-Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Writer

Another great book by John Hennessey

Dark Winter: Crescent Moon (Dark Winter, #2)Dark Winter: Crescent Moon by John Hennessy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently finished John Hennessey’s second book in the Dark Winter series, “Dark Winter, Crescent Moon.” In it we find our three heroines Beth, Romilly, and Toril, trying to defend themselves form the unearthly forces they met in the first book. The reality is that all the three are trying to do is find some semblance of normal. They find this task elusive as they can no longer tell their friends from their enemies. It is also difficult because what they want often seems to be at odds to one another.

John handles the second book in the series masterfully. An interesting read from start to finish, he does a good job of knowing when it is time to keep the action moving or when it is time to let the story slow down a tad and develop before the next issue erupts to plague their lives.

Not necessarily focusing exclusively on one particular character, you get a sense that every one of the three has their own demons to battle. The three, in the end, begin to recognize that they are stronger together than they are apart. We meet Toril’s mother in the story which is a nice touch to the story line, I thought. That part of the story line was particularly intriguing.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it definitely leaves you with a sense that you want to just download the next book in the series, “Last Rites” and read it because you need to find out what happened!

All-in-all, great work by John Hennessy. It was a very enjoyable read.

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