America by Charles Kuralt

Okay, this book is seriously vintage as it was published in 1995, but my hubby is recently retired, so he wants to do some traveling. But, when and where should we travel? A friend mentioned that a CBS news feature reporter who spent much of his career “on the road” discussed his favorite places to be in Charles Kuralt’s America, and the narrative relates his first year of retirement, where he spent time visiting them, at the best time of year to be in those spots. Despite the passage of time, the weather and scenery is no doubt much as it was in Kuralt’s retirement year, so the book is still relevant.

What’s special about this book is the magical prose that Kuralt employs to describe his series of destinations. In January, he spent time in New Orleans. As he is riding from the airport to his hotel in the French Quarter, he says, “I could have closed my eyes in the backseat of the taxi and known where I was purely by the pungent accent washing over me from up front.” I once worked with a lady from Louisiana, and the accent is unique, for sure. Kuralt further states that there are ” three main themes of the city: family, music, and food.” All three are the subject of his discourse, and apart from not actually tasting the jambalaya and crawfish étouffée, the reader feels as if he, too, had visited New Orleans. In February, Kuralt visited Key West, and again, he makes the reader feel like a participant in the trip. March’s destination was Charleston, a city that I’ve visited, but Kuralt stayed longer, met more natives, and has some interesting stories to share. In April, Kuralt ended up enjoying the emerging sign of spring, daffodils, which sounds incredibly boring, but it is not when Kuralt describes them.

In May, he is traveling again, and his destination is again in the south—Grandfather Mountain. His discussion of this scenic area of North Carolina includes everything from what makes the best barbecue to why one should make the drum of a banjo from squirrel skin. Kuralt packs more information into each chapter than I’ve read in several guide books for the area. June he spends in Ketchikan, Alaska; July in Ely, Minnesota; and August in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Kuralt’s love of boating and fishing is apparent in all of these destinations, as it is in his September destination of Twin Bridges, Montana. For local color in October, Kuralt visits Woodstock, Vermont. As the weather in the north chills, he goes to Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico, soaking up history along with the sunshine. For December, he returns to the place where he made his home for many years, New York City. However, as Kuralt explains, people don’t live in New York; rather, they live in a neighborhood within the city. Again, he gives the reader several examples of people and places in the city, which is decorated for the holidays in his prose.

Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road” feature stories for CBS news on television were a part of my youth. His voice rings true in this rambling, but never unfocused, narrative. For those who remember him, this is a nostalgic read. For those who don’t know his work, the book could serve as an introduction to a time when people didn’t spend time on their smart phones and computers, but spent leisure time in scenic places, learning from the people who inhabit those places. I’m glad that my friend recommended this book so highly, because I certainly enjoyed savoring it.

Anxious for Nothing— brief review and commentary

A friend told me how much she is enjoying her study of Max Lucado’s book, Anxious for Nothing, so I bought the Kindle version. Quite frankly, her comments were so positive that I did not want to wait to pick up the physical book. I’ve read several of Lucado’s Christian living texts, and they have all been easy to read and helpful, and this book fits that mold.

The title says quite a lot. Modern people have too much information coming at them, much of it negative, so being anxious is almost a modern plague. This plays out in all sorts of ways: addiction, suicide, failed relationships, etc. Lucado discusses the whys, and then gives some very good solutions to our problem thinking. One of my favorite passages says this: “There is a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror. Your future matters more than your past.”From my own experience, over thinking the past— the coulda, woulda, shoulda— is very damaging. When I counsel students, who almost always want me to allow them to “make up work” or “try again” I tell them to do better going forward. I even use the windshield analogy. But I like Lucado’s take on it.

Okay, his writing lacks sophistication; but not substance. Anxious for Nothing can be a quick read, but there is sufficient food for thought for study, too.

Classic YA fiction by Elizabeth George Speare

I was watching the grandkids play and perusing a shelf of older books. A title, Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare, caught my eye. Before long, I was reading and glancing over at the kids from time to time. When I taught middle grades (long, long ago) I used Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond as one of my class novels. I’m not sure that all of the students liked it, but I did. Calico Captive, like “Witch” is an historical novel, with a young adult protagonist.

Nowadays, many novelists write for younger audiences, and the readership is quite broad for such novels. Everything from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to The Hunger Games (Book 1) to The Princess Diaries  are squarely aimed at YA, but caught on with adults and movie audiences, too. Speare’s novels are very well written and could have a varied audience of entertained readers. Instead of re-cycling old television shows, maybe some film makers will decide to put Elizabeth George Speare’s tales into production. This novel would make a great movie!

Calico Captive tells the story of a young woman, Miriam Willard, living on the frontier in the 1700s; first captured by Indians, then held more or less as a prisoner of war by the French, during what historians now call the French-Indian War. According to my research, this is Speare’s debut novel, and it is based on a real life story. Miriam and her fellow captives are portrayed in a manner that held my interest. Okay, it is not quite a page turner, as it strives for some historical accuracy meaning that this all takes a while to resolve, but this story also helped me learn about a period of history that I don’t know well at all.

Readers who love history and are looking for a well written novel with adventure and a hint of romance will really enjoy this story. Speare’s later, better known works, are good reads also, but I have genuinely enjoyed this window into another time.

Netflix? Hulu? Amazon? Come on, let’s get these stories into production!

Found Girl— review and commentary

For me, the works of Pauline Baird Jones are hit and miss. My favorite of her stories is the first one I read (The Key, also known as Project Enterprise, Book 1). I’ve read several other of her novels, and her style is generally a blend of snappy dialogue, kick-butt heroines, romantic suspense, and sufficient action to keep the reader entertained.

My most recent read is billed as Book 6 in the Project Enterprise series. The main character is Arian Teraz, a young woman whose place in the universe is destined to be an arranged marriage a tilling some farmland on a rather primitive planet. Right before she must marry, a mysterious ship lands in front of her and invites her to take a chance on another life. As the ship leaves her home planet, they are attacked, and somehow she steers the ship through a wormhole. On the other side of that is a pilot named Cooper. This is where fans of Project Enterprise novels will see how this story fits into the series.

Found Girl contains the snappy dialogue, action, and Jones’ trademark blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. I read the Amazon Kindle version, which is $4.99 at this writing.

Rebel Princess by Blair Bancroft

The title of this yarn isn’t particularly original, as it makes me think of Princess Leia, but the story doesn’t lean on Star Wars very much. As the book opens, with a war game going on, rather like Star Trek— The Wrath of Khan, I was wondering if the author was going to borrow heavily from that story, but not really. Actually, Bancroft uses lots of science fiction and fantasy elements, but this is theme and variation, then more variation. As a writer, a reader, and an occasional viewer of science fiction, I see this story as fairly original, and since there truly is “no new thing under the sun” that’s a complement.

Oh, there are some aspects of the story that I don’t like. Most of the “alien” characters have an odd apostrophe in their names. I’ve come to view that artifice as trite, as so many science fiction and fantasy writers employ it. There are times when the narrative drags a bit, and the author tends to use too many sentence fragments. Especially. At times of high emotion. Oh wow. Get it? And, at least half of the main players have two names, because some are masquerading as someone else, which can get a bit confusing. Indeed, the author has a list of terms on her website, just to explain some of what’s going on in the story. Mostly, I didn’t need that, but it was nice to take a look at them all to see if I had guessed correctly.

Still, this story has lots to like, including a heroine (Kass Kiolani) who is brave but not at all prone to throwing caution to the winds. Since she was brought up as a royal heir, she thinks everything through. The hero (Tal Rigel) is mostly heroic and a lot less cautious than Kass, but vulnerable enough to be likable. Minor characters tend to be stereotypical, but there is some character building, especially the main character’s brother, who has some interesting “gifts.” The world building is better than some novels in the romantic science fiction genre, perhaps because this is the first in a series of novels set in this universe.

As of this writing, Rebel Princess is also dirt cheap, at 99 cents or free for Amazon Prime members.

Some Science Behind My Science Fiction

Having just read an article in Popular Science online about what a”Generation Ship” might look like, I was gratified to see that some of the core concepts in my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, are firmly rooted in science.

The article speculates about what challenges the multi-generation inhabitants of a colonizing venture (based on an extrapolation of current space technology) might face. Topics addressed include propulsion, medical issues, livestock, and robot workers.

In Trinity on Tylos, the alien captain of the Archeonite III has a big problem: his colony of survivors died out, but he has the ability to grow little Archeons from stored genetic material. He just needs some baby mamas, and my characters Venice Dylenski and Alathea Duke end up with the task. In the Popular Science article, We Could Move to Another Planet with a Spaceship Like This, the author mentions that “speculators say it’ll take 20,000 souls to start a healthy population on a new world. One space-­saving tip: Bring frozen embryos and people to diversify the gene pool upon arrival.” That’s right out of my novel, where Azareel and his android medical team design the embryos that Venice and Alathea gestate.

As in the Popular Science article, robots are probably going to be the grunt workers of the future. In my novel, the Archeons use robots (as they take the form of their makers, I call them androids) as workers. A limited but technologically proficient population would no doubt employ robotic workers, freeing the populace to supervise or take on  tasks that require a more creative mind.

Trinity on Tylos is a complex story, because it goes beyond being just a space opera and delves into human relationships, made more complicated by the limited number of people with whom the characters interact. Also, it is a story of surviving on a somewhat hostile planet, solving such issues as having enough water to irrigate crops. The Popular Science article mentions farming as one of the most necessary activities once the generation ship reaches a new planetary home. Indeed, when I wrote Trinity on Tylos, I remembered the words of William Bradford, a leader of the pilgrims who settled Massachusetts, who wrote “what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, fall [sic] of wild beasts and wild men—and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not.” Survival is not easy, and the Popular Science article, although very positive in outlook, does not ignore the difficulties that might face the future generations of humans whose journey began with some adventuresome ancestors.

Technological progress and science fiction often go hand in hand, because what writers dream up, engineers can (sometimes) make happen. However, the reverse is also true— when creating a science fiction story, there must be some science blended in with the fiction. Trinity on Tylos is science based fiction, and it is available for your Kindle reader or Kindle enabled device; just click on the cover art.

 

Dust World— review and commentary

Dust World, by B.V. Larson, is the second book in a series he calls “Undying Mercenaries” because of some nifty alien technology that allows dead soldiers to be reborn via genetic encoding of a clone body. While I enjoyed this story, I didn’t find it nearly as dramatic as the first book in the series, Steel World. Basically, this is the continuing adventures of James McGill, a young man who joins up with Legion Varus in the first book. As this entry in the series opens, McGill is at home on leave, and is rather bored with his earthly existence. After having faced fierce adversaries and been born again a few times, lounging around the house is bound to get old, I guess.

Anyway, before long, McGill is recalled by his Legion Varus leadership, and his training and adventures continue. The book has plenty of action, but some of the characters remain a bit flat. Military fiction tends to suffer from stereotypes, and this novel is no different. The brass is bad, the guys in the trenches are good: yada, yada.

(spoilers beyond)

Basically, the action in this novel pits the legion against fellow humans, as they are members of a lost colony. This colony is a big problem for Earth, as colonization is against Galactic Law. Now that Earth has forcibly joined the Galactic Union, and the mercenaries of Legion Varus are sent to deal with this long lost colony. The frontier planet is inhabited by colonists who have adapted to the harsh environment. The colonists seem to have perfected some particularly damaging nanites, which they use to enhance their primitive weapons. Every time one of the legion is knifed, he or she dies a dramatically painful death. Of course, the legion is supposed to bring back these troops, but there is a problem.

These colonists have enough sense to attack not only the legion but the machine that spits out regenerated soldiers. As the action on this planet proceeds, the machine is damaged and all of its techs are dead. Therefore, if the remaining troops can’t revive the machine, those who die on this planet will be permanently dead. McGill has his hands full as he tries to fight these fellow humans, but not kill them, and he needs to get that machine back to work. Negotiations do take place, but there is treachery on both sides. McGill does make things happen, but it is never easy.

All in all, this is an entertaining entry in the series, and I recommend the series to fans of military fiction, science fiction, and (especially) space opera.

Not with a Whimper: Producers

D. A. Boulter was one of the first authors I read when I first downloaded the Kindle app for my (now passed on to a grandchild) iPad2. Gosh, I loved the app, the book, and that iPad. Fast forward a few years, and I have quite a few Kindle books in my virtual library, a newer iPad, and Amazon Prime, which allows me to read a lot of stuff for free. However, I recently purchased Not With A Whimper: Producers. Despite the odd title, this novel fits into the “universe” that I first explored when I read Courtesan by Boulter.

I was prepared to love this book, as I have generally liked most of the books I’ve read by the author, and the description seemed interesting. However, as I slogged through the early parts, I wasn’t so sure. Somewhere around the 50% read portion I got seriously interested, but in the interest of not spoiling it, I won’t say why. The rest of the book was a quick read.

The main character of this story is a not quite 19 year old Larry Clement, and in many ways this story reminds me of the coming of age yarns that were the foundation of Robert Heinlein’s science fiction writing. Larry is a very unhappy young man, but a fundamentally good person, as the story opens. His girl, Sandra, and his fellow students are not fleshed out too well, but the relationship with his father is a main focus, so dear old dad, aka Robert Clement, is also a well thought out character. While I think that Courtesan is among this author’s best works, it isn’t necessary that readers read it first, as this novel stands alone quite well. However, the stories do share some characters, so I enjoyed the connections.

When I last reviewed a story by Boulter, I commented that his works don’t have many reviews and seem to have few readers. That’s a shame, because this guy has plenty of stories in him, good ones, and in a time when there is such a dearth of new material for readers, he deserves more reviews and the readers that write them. Indeed, anyone who likes science fiction or simply a good story should check out D. A. Boulter’s $2.99 Kindle books. Honestly, that’s cheap reading— less than a decent hamburger!

Trading for a Dream— review of book 2 in the Yrden Chronicles

TradingDreamcoverSince I first began reading eBooks on my iPad, I’ve used Amazon’s Kindle more than any other app, because it works well and the content is both plentiful and inexpensive. An early favorite author was D.A. Boulter, whose novel Courtesan impressed me quite a lot. I’ve revisited his work from time to time, and recently I read the latest entry in the series that began with CourtesanTrading For A Dream (The Yrden Chronicles Book 2).

Boulter’s Yrden books are based upon the idea that somewhere in the future, Trading Families will own fleets of cargo ships that not only carry paid cargo, but that there would be trade representatives on board who scout for local merchandise at each port of call, buying and selling or bartering, providing new goods for their customers as well as adding profit to the Family. Of course, the Yrden Family is the core group, but Courtesan is a stand alone book which occurs some generations before the events in the two available Yrden Chronicles novels. Trading For The Stars (The Yrden Chronicles Book 1) recounts the story of Clay Yrden and Colleen Newborn who meet on a primitive planet, Erin.

Trading for a Dream continues their story, but the main point of view character is not one of the Family; instead, as the novel opens, the reader meets Adrian Telford, who is engaged in arranging an accident (i.e. he’s a hit man.) However, when the victim’s wife and son witness the “accident” Telford loses his taste for a life of crime. In an effort to clean up his act, Telford rides a shuttle to Liberty Station, a space station which is on the trade route of Blue Powder, a Yrden Family ship.

(spoiler alert)

When Blue Powder docks, Clay and Colleen soon meet Mr. Telford. Clay sees him as too risky due to his past association with criminals, but Colleen sees a desperate man in need of a hand up. Needless to say, the interactions between the Yrdens and Telford make up the rest of the novel. The yarn is suspenseful due to the efforts of the baddies to make Telford go back to his former profession, as well as an attempt to relieve the Yrdens of some of their goods.
While there are some mostly stereotypical characters, the author does a reasonable job of creating engaging characters, including the folks on the ship, the bad guys who used to be Telford’s business associates, and other folks who get involved, so there are quite a few of them for the reader to keep straight. Having read the other novels in the series helped me a bit in that regard.

I’ve enjoyed Doug Boulter’s stories, and I really liked this one, too. The only caveat I have in recommending these is if you want sex scenes, you’ll be disappointed, as these stories are remarkably clean without being intended for a young adult audience. These stories are reasonably priced on Amazon, and I encourage readers to discover this relatively unknown author. I am so glad I did.

Son of Justice— a quick review

Son of JusticeEli Jayson is a recruit, struggling to get through basic training, just like many others. But, he has knowledge of military matters far beyond his fellow recruits, because his real name is not Jayson, it is Justice, which is the name of the supreme commander of Allied Forces, and Eli’s father. Having grown up in his father’s shadow, Eli may be the perfect soldier, or not. But he must succeed or fail on his own, for as Eli Jayson, he isn’t getting any special treatment.

That’s just a summary of the opening of this novel, Son of Justice, which is the beginning of a trilogy by Steven Hawk. I’m a fan of military fiction, and the “recruit grows up fast” plot line is hardly a new one, but Hawk does a reasonably good job of blending traditional story elements with fresh insights into both how the military mind thinks, as well as building his sci fi universe. As this is the opening of a series, he must also lay the groundwork for the rest of his trilogy as well as keeping the action flowing to entertain his readers. I rather liked this book, as the author manages all those tasks fairly well.

Often, such beginning of a trilogy books suffer from the cliffhanger ending, but this yarn stands alone quite well, so readers who want to sample Hawk’s writing can read this one without being roped into other purchases.