Kindle books and the Kindle App— true love!

AmazonFebruary is known for its major holiday, Valentine’s Day. Yes, there is President’s Day, too, but who cares about that? No, it is Valentine’s Day that sells the chocolates and flowers, and lots of cards. Perhaps this is my Valentine’s Day card to Amazon’s Kindle program. Oh, Kindle, let me count the ways….

First, I love the Kindle app. I’ve never owned a Kindle, but the app that I have downloaded to my Apple devices (as of this writing, an iPad and iPhone) is the best eBook reading platform I have ever used. Over a decade back, I began reading eBooks on my Apple laptop. That evolved into reading on a Palm PDA, and then I moved my eBook collection to my iPad. So, I have used several platforms, including Nook, iBooks, and a few others. Nothing beats the Kindle app.

Second, I love the Kindle bookstore. My, oh my, there are so many books in there, and often, I find something for free! Admittedly, the freebies are usually inferior to paid content, but not always. As a part-time web designer, I have been helped quite a lot by such titles as these:

SEO for Bloggers

WordPress Made Super Simple

WordPress Mastery

And, I have reviewed a number of fiction titles in previous posts. Almost all of my reading these days is fueled by the Amazon Kindle Store. I get books for a fraction of what I used to pay, and they are on my device in seconds rather than my having to make a trip to a bookstore.

Third, I have published via the Kindle store. My science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, never paid me back for my promotional expenses when it was originally published by Whiskey Creek Press. And, it is still not selling many digital copies, but I have seen more in royalties via Amazon than I ever saw from the original publisher. If I were to publish again, I would seriously consider the straight to Kindle approach, and I would embrace social media marketing and skip fighting for a guest slot at science fiction conventions.

Anyway, as a consumer and as an author, I really love Amazon.

The Star Spangled Banner

Americans are looking forward to the Super Bowl tomorrow. Some will watch the game, because they love football. Fans of each team will hope for a year’s worth of bragging rights. For some, its an excuse to buy a $100 worth of chicken wings from the local Beef O’Brady’s. Then there are fans of those enormously expensive commercials. Probably few people will tune in to see Idina Menzel sing the national anthem, but I might be among them. That lady can sing!

However, she will be hard pressed to beat the version that Whitney Houston did a generation back. Take a look at her performance:

Mama a/k/a “Shorty” Blackstock

Mug shot 49 book

For whatever reasons, I took a look at the Piedmont College alumni website recently, and they have online yearbooks! Wow. That is kinda scary for me, as I was in four of those, but it was seriously cool to see fairly clean copies of my mother’s yearbooks. Mama was from Auburn, Georgia, and she went to college for two years (1948-51) on a basketball scholarship. As an austerity measure, the new president at Piedmont discontinued women’s basketball, so mama left the school (in debt, she told me once) and worked in Atlanta to pay off her debt. Afterward, she attended Georgia State University, while playing semi-pro women’s basketball in Atlanta in the early 50s. She never finished college, because, as the youngest and only unmarried daughter, she was called home to help with aging parents.

While back in Auburn, she had a blind date with a guy named Dodd, and they married a year or so later. The Dodds had three daughters, and I am the eldest. I graduated from Piedmont, and one of my sisters went there for her first two years of college. Piedmont is still a fine institution, and I know because I took a graduate class there a couple of years ago.

Mama was known as “Shorty” because she was six-one, which wasn’t too common 65 years ago.

Here are some screen shots from the ’49 and’50 Piedmont College yearbooks:

Front and Center

Mama, at six-one, always got to hold the ball in team shots.

Piedmont women on defense in 1949 yearbook.

Caption in the 1949 book reads “Hold that Line” so no one is identified, but that has got to be Mama in the center of the picture.

Candid from 1950

This is one of the few pics where Mama looks like me.

War Horse— review and commentary

War Horse imageMy sister offered me tickets to a play a while back, War Horse. Since I didn’t get a chance to make the show, I decided to put the film version in my queue at Netflix. Okay, historical films are not my usual genre, but this is one heck of an impressive story. The main character is indeed a horse, a half thoroughbred named Joey, born somewhere in the UK. The story begins with his birth and follows him through his adventures, from being sold at auction to a poor drunkard who couldn’t afford him, to his training by that man’s son, young Albert, to his forced sale to an army officer, who is about to embark on a journey to Europe at the beginning of World War I. Although the horse is the primary focus, the audience learns that Albert joins the army in hopes of finding Joey, and the action switches back and forth a few times, as the characters come closer together during the fighting in France. This war is depicted in detail at times, yet there is an almost surreal look to the filmography. If a war can be pretty, there are times when this one is. But, there are times when it is heart wrenchingly terrible, too. From a strictly historical viewpoint, I had no idea the role that horses played in WWI, and that millions of them not only fought, but died in service.

Joey’s fate is the suspense in this film, for most everyone knows who won that conflict. The script is excellent, the actors are really good, as is the direction, but perhaps the most striking thing in this wonderful film is the performance of the horse(s) that portray Joey. There are times that he seems supremely intelligent, and getting a horse to “perform” as an actor is quite an accomplishment.

War Horse, a Steven Spielberg film, is available on DVD. It is worth an evening of your time, especially if you are a history buff.

Terms of Enlistment

Cover art of Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

Space Opera!

Okay, I’ve never “served” as military folks put it, but I really enjoy reading about the exploits of those who have done so. Perhaps due to watching the exploits of astronauts with military titles in my youth, I still believe that the military will play some role when (or if) mankind actually goes into space and establishes colonies on other worlds. In my own Trinity on Tylos my main character, Major Venice Dylenski, has a military background, but I viewed her as a bit like “Captain” Miles Standish might be viewed in American history. He’s a military guy who is there for security, and my character is the security chief, because someone ought to be in charge of that when landing on uncivilized planets.

In Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos, the military is far more than security; it is the force that keeps the homeworld (earth) and colonies safe. Andrew Grayson is the main character; he grew up in a welfare section of Boston. Desperate to leave the vicious cycle of generations on public assistance, he joins the military. Okay, that is hardly a new plot line, but as Kloos paints his picture of Grayson’s world, readers can easily believe this dystopian view of the “North American Commonwealth.” As a new NAC recruit, Grayson is under quite a lot of pressure. Failure in any area, from taking orders to passing tests, will cause him to “wash out” and go right back to eating welfare rations and watching his folks succuomb to treatable illnesses. Thus, there is an additional layer of suspense added to the usual risk/reward of enlistment. Once our hero gets through basic, he can expect a five-year hitch, then go back home with cash, and education, and a fresh start.

(spoiler alert)

However, once Grayson gets through basic, instead of being posted to a naval (spacegoing) vessel, he is placed into the TA (territorial army) and tasked with policing the very sorts of places that he sought to leave. However, as the yarn rolls along at its brisk pace, Grayson faces domestic enemies with courage and is able to use his heroism under fire to wangle a transfer to the space navy. Once there, he hopes to be set for his five year enlistment, but an alien species invades, and he has many more opportunities to be heroic, and less and less to return home to, as the government pours all of its resources into saving the colonies, leaving the homeworld to become barely habitable.

While it doesn’t break much new ground, Terms of Enlistment does an excellent job of entertaining the reader. The  main characters are more than stereotypes, and the world building is quite good. I’ve already re-upped for the second novel in the series (Lanes of Departure) and am enjoying it, too.

Terms of Enlistment is a bit like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but with less of Heinlein’s political agenda. Fans of space opera and/or military fiction would be wise to check out this well-written novel. Oh, and it is rather long, so for $3.99 it really is a bargain, too.

More Reviews in 2015?

Trinity on Tylos as a Kindle Countdown deal


Trinity on Tylos is buried on page nine of sixteen pages of countdown deals in science fiction.

For the beginning of 2015, Amazon is offering Trinity on Tylos as one of their “countdown deals.” For the first half of the scheduled time (80 hours, I think) it is only 99 cents, then it moves to $1.99. Thus far, all of the reviews have been either 4 or 5 stars, and I hope there are new ones, but I obviously hope any new readers and/or reviewers enjoy it well enough to leave positive reviews.

As a reader and customer, I really like Kindle Countdown deals, and I look at the offerings regularly. Usually, these deals last less than a week, so act quickly if you want to take advantage of the reduced price. Hopefully, fans of science fiction will take decide to begin their new year by reading Trinity on Tylos.

Trinity on Tylos has sufficient world building and character development to be the basis for a series, but to put forth the time and energy to write those, I’d like some confidence, and reviews (and sales) are the best ways to vote for more writing from Pamela J. Dodd.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Christmas Card

I love Christmas Cards

Warning, this post is not about books.

Each year, I write a letter to friends and family, but I try to avoid bragging or writing about things everyone knows anyway. I really hate those sorts of letters. In my letter, I try to present a humorous take on the previous year, and I always include a few photos, usually of my son (who is kinda cute) and my husband, who is rather dignified, but certainly good looking. Since I am the family photographer, it can be difficult finding a picture of me, but I try. I put the letter in a traditional card, because I really like getting cards, and the only way to get some is to send some.

However, each year, I update my card list, and there are several addresses that are deleted or altered, because the recipient died, or Mr. and Mrs. becomes one or the other, because one of them passed on. This morning, I opened a few more cards, and one of the ladies had written a note that she misses her husband so much. The card I sent her was one of the ones that I had to alter, and I never hit the delete key without thinking about how difficult it is to go through the holidays with an empty chair, a lonely meal, or a side of the bed that is no longer occupied. While this is sad, it is also life.

Thankfully, some folks are still having children, and those will bring joy to those of us fortunate enough to have them. I’m very blessed to have an almost two-year old granddaughter. Lately, I have taken an old kid-craft version of the nativity, and put it within her reach. She can point to the “baby” which is merely a folded piece of felt with a wooden head glued on it, and she can also identify the “mama” and the “daddy” which are made of sticks, cloth, and glue. This little wood and cloth scene has some “hay” and a “star” for her to talk about as well. While she can’t form sentences, she does seem to realize that this object has some significance. Perhaps, next year, I can show her one with a bit more detail, and explain why there are holidays to celebrate.

In the years to come, I will take out some photo albums, and show her those who have passed from this world, as well as sharing photos from more recent times. Hopefully, she will grasp the importance of family. Christmas can be sad, because of those I have lost, but it is also very happy, because I have a future to build as well.

Tales of Honor— Volume 1 “On Basilisk Station”

Tales of Honor IAs a fan of David Weber, I have been most interested in the new venture he has with Evergreen Studios to turn the adventures of his flagship character, Honor Harrington, into a series of comic books, a video game, and eventually, a movie series. I seldom play video games, so I won’t comment on that aspect, but re-imagining the characters in a semi-manga set of comics is an interesting approach to creating a wider audience for Weber’s work.

I purchased the actual book (a larger paperback) rather than the eBook, because I wanted to examine the work closely and perhaps share it. I’ve read (and re-read) the books, so I am not the intended audience. Fans of Weber’s prose are probably going to be disappointed, because there are not many words in these books. Comics (graphic novels?) are quite different from prose, and Weber uses lots of words. However to bring Honor off the page and onto film will require story boards, so I am viewing this book, and those that hopefully will come later, as elaborate story boards. Weber has a full page introduction in this book wherein he asks fans to be open-minded about the new approach to his work.

On Basilisk Station has a good bit of exposition, and while interesting, it isn’t as tense as some of the later novels, so I found it interesting that Tales of Honor, Volume I begins “in medias res” with the situation at the end of book seven (In Enemy Hands) as the framework for book one. Certainly this approach ramps up the suspense, as Honor faces torture and execution, and remembers these earlier events, because her previous exploits are what led to her capture by the Havenites.

A few posts back, I included some art by a cover artist who really captures the Honor Harrington of my imagination, and this Top Cow/Evergreen Studios version is quite a bit different. Still, art conveys meaning in a different manner than words, and just having visuals of Honor and her universe may alienate some fans, but will hopefully attract others.

Do I like this book? Well, not really. I very much prefer the original. But is it bad? Nope, it isn’t. Honestly, the comic novel manages to get across quite a bit of the original, in very few pages. The pictures are not cartoons, but have quite a bit of detail. Especially interesting are the panels which explain how propulsion and weapons work in Honorverse. Weber always mentions the devastation of warfare, but the visuals here are more dramatic than words alone. My main problem with Tales of Honor is the problem that fans often have with films—a disconnect between what I previously imagined and what I am seeing. This version of Honor is less beautiful, more menacing, and less subtly nuanced than the one in my imagination. And, the Nimitz in this book is unrecognizable. Really. Are these problems created by the artists, or by my lack of an open mind?

As of this writing there is only a one-star review on Amazon, written by a disgruntled fan who is also experiencing this closed-minded disconnect. Hopefully, that will change, because for Honor to become a film heroine, the comic books will need to find more receptive audience. And, I believe Honor’s exploits would make one heck of a good series of movies, so I am gonna hop over to Amazon and leave a review.

The Martian— a quick review and some commentary

The MARTIAN coverOften, I choose to read indie published books rather than those from the “big six” publishers, because I find the content of indie books to be a bit more raw, unpolished, and (sometimes) unique. Yes, I am disappointed from time to time (as in my previous post) but I keep trolling for new authors and books. However, recently, Goodreads sent out a newsletter and the science fiction book of the year was Andy Weir’s The Martian. The blurb caught my eye so I bought it, but didn’t begin immediately, as I was slogging through a book on SEO (search engine optimization) at the time. Over the weekend, I began The Martian, and I was hooked. Like from the first page, I was seriously into the story.

The plot is not a new one. An astronaut is marooned on Mars. His fellow crew members are on the way home, believing that he is dead. But, this astronaut is determined and a heck of an engineer, so he keeps finding ways to use what is at hand to survive. After a while, the NASA folks figure out he is still alive, so they are trying to figure out how to get him home. Yes, it is really suspenseful. But sometimes it is laugh out loud funny, because the main character is quite a character.

Actually, this book was so engaging that I began to question my quest for good indie books. If the big guys are publishing this kind of science fiction, then I should be looking at the best seller lists again. So, after finishing the book, I did a wee bit of research and learned that Weir’s book was originally self-published via Amazon’s Kindle Direct (yeah!) and only after it sold thousands (at 99 cents, because that’s Amazon’s minimum price) in the first three months did big publishing come calling. Now, it is the basis for a movie starring Matt Damon.

The book is cool. Weir’s evolution as a writer is seriously cool. Many of the self-published and small press published writers, including yours truly, would love to have this sort of rags to riches experience. The impediment to that is having a really great book. The Martian is such a book. So, my suggestion is read it now and try to wait for the film version. Gravity won an Oscar, so the way is paved for another near future space adventure to do well at the box office.