Bertrice Small’s The Kadin

Author Bertrice Small’s obituary in the New York Times piqued my interest in her writing. I’m not sure if I read any of her books back when I read historical romance, but somewhere in a stack of books that a friend passed along to me is her Skye O’Malley. Quite honestly, it is on a shelf downstairs, with a lot of other books that I may never get around to reading. However, a brief look at Small’s book list led me to begin with her debut novel, a “harem” romance called The Kadin. I downloaded it from the Kindle store, and there are a few rough spots where the file didn’t translate too well, but over all, it was in good shape.

I was prepared to not like the novel. The reviews on Goodreads (something like 1900 plus) were mostly good, but there were any number of bad ones. Actually, the reasons for the bad reviews are some of the aspects that I liked best. Instead of being a slice of life, The Kadin is the whole life of Lady Janet Leslie; at least from the age of four, when her father legitimizes her, the offspring of an affair with a local peasant; until her death. Thus, it is far more than a romance. When our main character is a young teenager, her father is appointed ambassador to some obscure Middle Eastern nation and while there she is abducted and sold as a slave. Her purchaser is the chief eunuch of a harem, and young Janet, renamed Cyra, is groomed to be the young sultan’s favorite. For the most part, the eunuch’s plan goes well, but there is sufficient political intrigue between Cyra and her Selim, as well as Cyra and the other harem inhabitants that the plot never really drags, and the novel is some 400 plus pages.

Bertrice Small has the reputation of writing rather sexual romances, but The Kadin precedes that aspect of her writing. While her main character is very strong, she is swept away into the role of harem slave and never really protests that. Modern readers often bring modern mores into their analysis of fiction. Some of those one and two star reviewers seem to expect Janet/Cyra to rebel and somehow turn the sixteenth century into the twentieth at least, which amuses me. Others believe Small’s portrait of harem life, while quite fictional, has too many details. Who cares what they ate or wore? Well, actually, I care. Details help readers get into the story, and I really enjoyed getting into this novel. If it reminded me of anything, it has a lot in common with Angelique in Barbary, but that’s an even older story and is the best “harem slave” story I have ever read.

The Kadin is more than a romance and is almost diametrically opposed to modern chick lit. My time with it was a bit like watching great old movie that I had somehow missed seeing the first time around. I enjoyed it, and while it isn’t a great book, it is a really, really good one.

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American Sniper— the book

American Sniper by Chris Kyle coverOkay, I admit, I have a tendency to do certain things backwards. Hubby laughs at this one: whenever I pick up a magazine, I thumb through and begin reading somewhere near the back. I sometimes do that with catalogues, too. Why? Because the snazzy pictures are in the front, and the words are in the back. I like words.

American Sniper, the movie, is in theaters in my area of the country as I write this, which means it is the perfect time for Pam to read the book! I ordered American Sniper (for the Kindle) and read it on my iPad, and I was impressed. Chris Kyle’s exploits are apparently quite controversial, based on the reaction to the film, but I did not find it so much controversial as conversational. After I finished, I felt like I has spent a while talking with this Texas cowboy turned Navy Seal, who loved guns and his country enough to go back into a war zone, over and over.

Why is Kyle’s career a controversy? There are those who feel that Americans were invaders in Iraq. Okay, I see that. A little bit, anyway. Any war on foreign soil will have that aspect. And there are those who feel that being a sniper, hiding behind a big rifle with a bigger scope, is a cowardly way to fight. That I don’t get, at all. Guerilla warfare is not new. And, in the war in Iraq, with insurgents attacking government installations and convoys, having a sniper on every tall rooftop made a lot of sense. As he often puts it in the book, Iraq was a “target rich” environment. His recorded number of “kills” is far above any other sniper, and he is matter of fact in explaining that his accomplishment was in part due to being in the thick of things for four deployments.

Kyle’s story, which begins during his childhood in Texas, is entertaining and quintessentially American. When he discusses the war, it is the voice of a military man, explaining what happened from his point of view. Also of interest are brief interludes where his wife, Taya, discusses what was happening from her perspective. This gives the story more depth because modern warfare can happen so far away that the combatant’s home country is isolated from the realities of war. The price paid by the family is made quite real through her observations.

If you haven’t read Kyle’s autobiography, you might want to give it a try. Although it becomes a bit repetitive, because what he did on a day-to-day basis didn’t change all that much, his voice is strong throughout the book, and Chris Kyle was a man’s man in a country that has, by and large, gone soft.

Leonard Nimoy, one of the original stars of Trek, has died

Leonard Nimoy as Spock

Mr. Nimoy, in black and white, for that is how I first saw him, on my parents’ old console television.

That sucks. Really.

He was in poor health, but really, I am feeling loss right now. As a youngster, I enjoyed TOS when it was first telecast, and I enjoyed it even more in re-runs when it was in syndication and I could watch it without any disparaging remarks from my father. (Nothing against dear old J.R. but he liked westerns, and just didn’t realize that Trek was a western, set in outer space.) And, Nimoy’s character, Spock, was just a lot more interesting than Dr. McCoy, Scottie the engineer, or even the feisty Captain Kirk. Lots of girls swooned over the intellectual Mr. Spock, and maybe that was part if the attraction, but I really think it was his brainpower that made me love the character of Spock. During my life, I only dated two young men for any length of time, both of whom had very dark hair and lots of brainpower, and I feel very fortunate to have married one of them!

Anyway, I’m not sure how others will react to Mr. Nimoy’s passing, but for me his death touches my heart even more than the deaths of his co-stars, James Doohan and DeForest Kelley, or even the great bird of the galaxy, Mr. Roddenberry himself. I never met Leonard Nimoy, but I feel as if a long time friend is gone. Since I watched TOS countless times, as well as the movies, I suppose my feeling of loss is logical.

We’ll miss you, Mr. Nimoy!

Fatal Boarding— a review

Cover, Fatal Boarding

Fatal Boarding is better than the cover would suggest.

Recently, I read E.R. Mason’s science fiction novel, Fatal Boarding, via the Kindle app. As of this writing, it is a bargain because it is free. And, normally, if I don’t particularly like a freebie, I do not review it. I did review this one, on Amazon, and I am going to do so in a more elaborate manner here, because I did like it, but with reservations.

Why did I “buy” it in the first place? The cover is pretty bad, I think, but the number of reviews and stars is impressive. Also, you can’t beat free. So, I added it to my Kindle library, and I did manage to finish it, although I thought of abandoning the effort more than once. The main character isn’t likable, at least not a first, but he did grow on me. The situation is interesting, and the author does a good job of putting in details to help the reader visualize both settings and characters. Actually, the plot line isn’t all that fresh. However, just about every story has been told by now, so all we readers (and writers) have left is theme and variation.

Adrian Tarn, main character, is an experienced spacer, currently serving as security officer on a ship that has a boring task, mapping. He signed on because he lost too much money gambling, and at least a portion of his grumbling is probably intended as foreshadowing. Anyway, his rather boring job is interrupted when his ship goes a tad off course to investigate a derelict alien vessel. The reason this other ship is abandoned is a bit of a mystery, and solving this mystery becomes imperative when Adrian’s ship has malfunction heaped upon malfunction, apparently all due to the close proximity of the mystery ship. Then, folks start dying, as the title indicates. So, this is a space mystery, which evolves along expected lines, as Adrian and his fellows begin to figure out how and why both vessels are dead in space.

Overall, I did enjoy the story, but the most troubling aspect is the lack of proper grammar, spelling, and/or editing. As a writer, I know it is hard to catch every little thing, especially when working on one’s own manuscript. But, Fatal Boarding suffers myriad problems, making this a distracting book to read. The author confuses “loose” and “lose” several times, and there are missing quotation marks, missing commas, odd paragraphing, and other issues. At times, I had to back up to be certain what was happening or who was speaking.

Yet, 145 reviewers have rated this effort 5 stars, and another 87 give it 4 stars. That’s 228 more reviews than my space story, Trinity on Tylos, has garnered during 8 years of publication.

I’m doing something wrong….

Nebraska— the film

I’m a fan of Netflix and a subscriber to the service called Amazon Prime. As of this writing, the film Nebraska is available on both services. This comedy/drama is rather hard to classify, but I enjoyed it very much. Perhaps it speaks to my life experiences. My father was a widower for a number of years, and as the daughter who lived close by, it was often up to me to take care of his needs. And, people of his generation are just different from ours. Example: I was handed his wallet while he underwent a medical procedure; the darned thing was two inches thick. With nothing else to do while I waited, I thumbed through it. There were many scraps of paper, usually with a phone number scrawled upon each of them. He had a metal plate replica of his social security card! And, there was a “business card” of some executive from the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes. No kidding.

Okay, you are wondering when I will get around to reviewing Nebraska. Here goes: As the film opens, set in Billings, Montana, an elderly gent is walking on the emergency lane of a multilane highway. A cop pulls over and asks the gent (ably portrayed by Bruce Dern) where he is going, and he merely points ahead of his position. When asked where he came from, he points behind him. All the while, he is still walking. The next scene has his son, Dave, coming to the police station to pick up his father. His father’s destination is Nebraska. Why? Because he has a letter saying he won a million dollars in a sweepstakes, and the letter has to be returned to an address in Nebraska by a certain date. You know, the kind that really exist only to sell magazines.

The father, who seems a bit out of it, apart from his intense desire to get his million dollars, has become a thorn in his mother’s side. So, to give his mom a break, the son feigns illness to get off work, puts his dad in the car, and off to Nebraska they go. Their adventures make up the rest of the film. I’m not going into details, because I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice it to say that the son learns quite a bit about his elderly father on their journey to pick up his million dollar sweepstakes.

Nebraska gets a 92% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is unusual. So is this film, however. Those who have dealt with parents born during the depression will really appreciate this well acted film.

The Gift Horse is still available as an eBook

gifthorse-frontcoverMy debut novel was written over the course of several years; I have laughingly called it “my stress relief book” because when I had a bad day at work, I would stay up late at night and make sure my main character, Angie, had a worse day! Anyway, while I don’t view it as my best work, I have a strong affection for this twisted tale of misguided affection.

Here’s the “blurb” from the back cover:

If Angela Donalson – a young woman, orphaned, living in poverty, with brains and ambition – were granted three wishes, she would want wealth, an education, and a family.

Marc Avery has always had everything he ever wanted. Now he wants a girl for his pleasure, a girl no one will miss.

When, in a bizarre twist of fate, Angie is abducted and held at Avery’s remote Tennessee estate, she initially tries to thwart her captors. Unable to gain her freedom, Angie finds herself trading her morals to meet the challenges presented to her each day. As she comes to know the man behind her abduction, and comes to recognize that he can provide her with more than she ever dreamed possible, Angie faces dilemmas which will determine not only how she lives, but if she lives at all.

Combining a dynamic plot, remarkable characters, and a setting in the deep South, Pamela J. Dodd takes her readers for a wild ride on The Gift Horse.

After I did some minor edits to the original published version of Trinity on Tylos, which is now exclusively an Amazon Kindle title, I decided to do the same thing with my debut novel, The Gift Horse. Before I put it out to pasture, I really would like to do some web 2.0 marketing for it. However, the nice folks at Booklocker suggested that I pull the print version but leave the eBook alone. Since The Gift Horse is available on multiple eBook platforms (pdf, Nook, as well as Kindle) folks who want it should not have any trouble purchasing it. Of course, the few print copies that are still around (I have a few in a box somewhere) are all that will be printed. So, if you own one of the print copies, it might be worth something some day.

Until then, the original tale is available for $2.99, which is less than the price of a deluxe hamburger.

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.