The Apocalypse Troll by David Weber

TrollI’ve been re-reading some titles that I have in my “Nook” library, as I am unsure of what will happen with that since Barnes and Noble has sold out. One of my all time favorite science fiction authors is David Weber, who is best known for his series writing, especially the books about Honor Harrington. However, early in his career he wrote a few stand alone books, including The Apocalypse Troll. It’s a thrilling story, well told, and very much showcases Weber’s knowledge of military tactics and the geography of North Carolina.

As the story opens, Colonel Ludmilla Leonova is assigned the task of attacking an instrument of the dreaded “Kangas” a Troll, slang for a human brain in a mechanized body. This brain, conditioned to fight and kill humans, is not quite indestructible, but very close. Leonova is both brave and determined, however. She’ll seek and destroy this enemy of humanity, through space and time itself.

Thus, Leonova ends up on earth in the year 2007, and as this book was released in 1999, a near future story when it was written. After her fighter crashes, she is rescued by Captain Dick Ashton, who is incredulous, but convinced by her steady demeanor and the advanced tech of her space suit and weapon that she had indeed traveled back in time in pursuit of a malevolent enemy. This sounds as if it very much strains the concept of suspended disbelief, but the captain also convinces the upper echaleons of United States military and the President himself that Leonova is who she says she is, and that the Troll is somewhere on the planet, ready to wreak havoc on humanity. Weber does this quite skillfully, introducing a panoply of characters, one of his trademarks.

All sorts of military hardware and personnel are put into play as the Troll uses a less than honorable religious leader to whip susceptible citizens of the southeastern U.S. into angry mobs, and western North Carolina becomes the battleground.

Weber’s story is a good one, and the reader isn’t left with that sense of “what next?” that accompanies series books. For fans of David Weber, this story is a treat, and for readers who haven’t yet read any of his military fiction, it is a good introduction. The book is still available used and an an eBook from the publisher, as well as other sources.

Book selling for negative profit?

I’ve sold books online via Amazon (and I’ve listed on eBay also) for several years. Unless I got very, very lucky, I seldom made much money on those books. However, recently, I’ve seen negative profits. That’s right— the fees and postage are so high that Amazon is getting all the profit.

See this screen shot:

Amazon fees

Basically, the math isn’t in the seller’s favor here. For a $2.00 book sale, Amazon charged me $3.69 in fees, and for a $2.50 book sale, Amazon charged me $3.76. Even with the actual shipping cost being slightly less than the customer paid, I lost money, as I had to provide shipping materials and get the item to a post office. The only reason I got paid at all was the $6.56 book had a fee of $4.37. Sadly, since my state (Georgia) insists that Amazon collect sales tax on these used book sales, the buyer is not getting good value either. That book cost the buyer nearly $7, which is not a good deal for a used pamphlet.

Clearly, Amazon is not the best solution for book selling any more, so I removed all listings wherein the “fee” was as much or more than the book. Those will either be listed on eBay, or donated.

While I really love putting books into the hands of readers who will enjoy them, there is no sense in losing money to this relentless corporation.

iBooks and eBay—a winning combo

liver-rescue-apples

Apples and Apple, Inc.

As a reader of eBooks, I’ve been exploring new ways (and revisiting old ones) to view content. Recently, I saw a title touted on Facebook, and a quick look at eBay revealed several purchase options, including an eBook which was offered as a pdf file. I paid a golly whopping .99, and it arrived via email. Not quite as quick as Big A, but the seller offered pretty quick service. I tried reading the file via my email app, but that didn’t save my place, so I downloaded the file to iBooks. Winner, winner, but no chicken dinner. However, the iBooks app is a very good way to read a pdf file, and the app is easy to use, just like other, more well known ways to view eBook content. Certainly, the price was right, too.

When Big A (the relentless internet seller) decided to give me the old “heave, ho” I was a bit concerned about when and where I’d get new books to read, as I am not buying from them at the moment, but that fear has been allayed by the eBay and iBooks combination. The title I purchased is “Liver Rescue” which I won’t review, as I sincerely hope my readers don’t need it, but I’ll let you know that one way to help the liver is to eat lots of apples. Actually, I am very pleased to get a 500+ text for a buck, and the advice to eat a fruit I really like is welcome, also. Thanks eBay! And thanks to Apple, for making such an intuitive app for the iPad. Reading about apples on an Apple product is quite appropriate, isn’t it?

Earth Day

planetI have mixed emotions about this day, but I do like some of the promotions associated with it. There is a nifty kids’ consignment store over in Buford that is having a big sale today, urging their customers to buy used. For kids, that’s generally a win-win, as children’s clothing is often not worn out before it is out-grown, and as kids are hard on their clothes, cheaper options are better for play clothes. I noticed some emails from an online clothing vendor, which is offering sale prices and promotional buttons which say “used.” I’m not going so far as to wear one of those, regardless of how good buying and wearing pre-owned items is for the planet.

One of my friends works with elderly folk, doing both house-keeping and care-giving, and she recently brought me some bags of fairly nice clothing from a client who is downsizing. I’ve been going through those, listing some items on eBay, and setting aside some for charity. She was told to “get rid of them” by the client, so my friend had the choice of trash or wholesale charity, but she is a thrifty sort, as I am, so she went through them first. Some readers are going to say, “Yuck, I can’t imagine being that poor.” But, the truth is that neither of us is especially impoverished, but we do realize that the planet is better off when things are re-purposed or re-used.

In my kitchen, I have a compost bin, and I take it out regularly, adding to my compost pile in the back of my property. When I set out plants, I use the composted material for fertilizer, instead of using chemicals that aren’t good for me or the planet. When I’m away from home, I generally take a water bottle, rather than buying those. I use rags and towels when cleaning, rather than always using paper towels (which I can’t get hubby to do.) And, I’ve learned that Dawn+vinegar+water trumps most pricey cleaning products.

As a reader, I enjoy new and old books and magazines. These days, most of the content I read is in digital form, which sometimes saves significant amounts of cash, but it also prevents the waste associated with old or remaindered books. If you haven’t tried eBooks, this is a great time to take the plunge, as there is plenty of free and inexpensive content. Try the “Nook” app from Barnes and Noble, as it works quite well.

Earth Day is a chance to think or re-think consumption.

Where do you buy your car “farkles”?

cargo trayMy oh my, WordPress didn’t like the spelling of “farkles.” That’s more of a motorcycle term, I suppose, but it basically means shiny stuff that might actually do something to help the vehicle. My rather limited research indicates that this is a portmanteau word, based on sparkle and function. When hubby gets a new ride, he often wants to invest in some farkles.

Having bought (perhaps I should say perpetrated, based on its performance thus far) a new-to-us ride, I shopped online for some accessories. I began on eBay, but ended up purchasing via a site that insists I remove all links to its site. Anyway,  I wanted genuine Toyota items, and our local dealership isn’t known for giving big discounts on much of anything. Via a relentless online vendor, I got some All Weather Floor Liners (deeper and more sturdy than floor mats) and a Genuine Toyota Cargo Tray, which is also deeper than a mat, if not quite as heavy. While not exactly “shiny” these items are handsome and quite functional.

The car looks a bit better with these accessories. Now, if I could just buy a cushier ride….

Claimed by the Warlord— a quick review

WarlordRecently, I read a science-fiction/fantasy romance by Maddie Taylor. Overall, this novel was a good read, but some reviewers gave it a thumbs down due to the “discipline” used on the heroine. And, I totally get that, as the character didn’t really do much to warrant that behavior on the part of the alpha male. On the other hand, I read (some years ago) the science fiction series by Sharon Green wherein there is one heck of a lot of love/abuse in the tumultuous relationship between the heroine and her lover. I’d call this one “Sharon Green lite” in terms of spanking. There’s not much else for the “me, too” set to object to. However, this novel does have other, somewhat graphic, scenes associated with the precarious situation that sets the action of the novel in motion. Indeed, the author’s ability to describe the effects of terror inducing situations upon Princess Aurelia is the best part of the novel.

As many stories do, this one begins in medias res, where the Princess has been captured, auctioned to the highest bidder, and awaits her fate at his hands. There is intrigue and treachery aplenty, and the plot does have some twists and turns. Although this is more romance than science fiction or fantasy, it has enough suspense to keep readers swiping the electronic pages. The author does have a way of making the cold seem colder, the hot seem hotter, and the terror seem, well…I’m sure you get the picture.

For readers who like a blend of steamy hot romance, a dash of space opera, a good sprinkling of fantasy, and some scenes that are not necessarily comfortable (but totally fictional) then Claimed by the Warlord is a good read. For readers who are made of sterner stuff, Sharon Green’s Terrilian series is now available in eBook form, as well as in  vintage paperback.

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.

Disaster? Get prepared!

One of my sisters lives in an area that has had several occasions when hurricanes made life difficult for a few days. She recounts a story of a couple who went nine days without utilities, and how her husband (an engineer by trade) took a home generator to the couple’s home and restored basic power. They are still fast friends, and that began with coping with a small scale disaster. My sister has put in a good bit of planning for such times into her current home. For instance, she has a gas cooktop, a propane grill, and she heats with fuel oil that lives in an absolutely huge tank. And, her pantry stays full. I have a full pantry and a swimming pool that I could tap for wash water and that’s about it. So, I wanted to know more about how to be prepared.

Now, I am not advocating being a “prepper” with $4K of freeze dried food stored in the basement. But, sometimes disasters happen, and the government’s recommendation of 72 hours worth of supplies might not be enough. To learn more about practical ways to be prepared, I recently read Tony Nestor’s book on the topic. He is a survival training expert, who makes a living teaching others how to survive in the wilderness or in more urban settings. His short book on this topic is impressive. I read When The Grid Goes Down: Disaster Preparations and Survival Gear For Making Your Home Self-Reliant in a couple of evenings. Nestor does not burden his book with lots of anecdotal tales; instead he gets right to the point and stays there. He discusses the differences between surviving in the city and in the country (not much different, actually) and then takes people’s needs, such as water, food, and shelter, topic by topic, and addresses how to prepare and cope with a disaster, should one occur. There is a bounty of useful information in this book, but I found the lists especially helpful. He also mentions other resources that I intend to purchase, such as a book for times when there is no doctor. Also helpful is the resources section in the back, which lists other books and DVDs, but it also has links to websites to purchase some of the items he recommends. And, no, he does not recommend tubs of food that lasts 25 years in storage. Nestor says he doesn’t eat that way now, and would not be happy eating that way in a disaster. Instead he recommends cans and packages of dry beans and rice that can be rotated for freshness. Oh, and he does recommend a firearm and lots of ammo. But he says that trapping and fishing are more efficient ways of securing animal protein. Again, this is practical advice!

The topics addressed here would be useful for a disaster that lasts from days to weeks. If you want to learn to live off the grid permanently, go read another book.

eBay scammer

From time to time, I sell used guitar parts on eBay, because my son is a luthier. Recently, I got some bad feedback, and when I checked on the buyer’s ratings, it seems that this guy (Mike in Nebraska) has a tendency to leave such feedback and after he gets a refund, he leaves new feedback saying, “Thanks for the refund.” The item I sold was a used (yep, used) truss rod cover. I asked $6.50 (with free shipping) for this used item, and Mr. Mike offered $5, which I took, even though it was hardly worth the trouble of doing the transaction. BTW, I offer 14 day returns, too. So, I package up the used cover, buy shipping with tracking ($2.05) and take it to the post office. Some 45 days after the transaction, Mr. Mike isn’t happy. I have offered a refund, but only if he returns the item. Mr. Mike hasn’t yet done the return request, perhaps because he knows that the item isn’t in such poor shape that it is worth printing out the form and paying return shipping. Actually, I will still give a full refund, despite it being 45 days, because it will be worth $5 to see if that cover looks as bad as he says. I know it was quite usable when it left me! Anyway, if you sell stuff on eBay, don’t sell to Mr. Mike. (eBay ID available upon request.) If there is a lesson in this, read the buyer reviews, and if he/she/it gives negative feedback or refers to refunds, cancel the order!

Anyway, this is my first bad experience, but no doubt not my last. Here is an interesting article on how to scam eBay sellers: I’m dealing with a bad eBay buyer!

Honor Among Thieves— a Star Wars novel

Honor Among Thieves coverThus far, my favorite Star Wars novel is Steve Perry’s Shadows of the Empire, which takes place between the film The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. Familiar characters from the film are necessary, but Shadows also introduces the memorable Dash Rendar, and by fleshing out what happened between Han Solo’s freezing in carbonite and Luke and Leia’s rescue, Perry’s novel seems quite organic.

There have been quite a few Star Wars based novels published since Shadows, but with the upcoming new Star Wars movie, it is natural that a new story, with the original characters, come to market, along with a zillion tee shirts. So, we have James S. A. Corey’s Honor Among Thieves, which takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, as Han continues to try to raise money to pay Jabba the Hutt, and Leia is involved in leading the rebellion, which is not just a war, but a fund raiser. Someone has to pay for all those X-wings. Anyway, a valuable spy sent a message indicating that she needs to be recalled, and Han needs the money, so he’s off to make contact, pick up Scarlet Hark, and pocket another reward. Nothing in their universe (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) is simple, however, and Han’s little errand gets complicated really quickly.

(spoiler alert)

One of the best ways to create suspense is to raise the stakes, and they are quite high in this novel. No, there is not a Death Star (twice is one too many IMHO) but a device that kills hyperspace travel is high stakes indeed, and Han, Leia, and Luke end up converging in an effort to wrest control of the hyperspace dampener from the Empire.

To be honest, I didn’t like Honor Among Thieves as much as I did Shadows of the Empire, but I did like it. Readers who want to revisit a young farm boy Luke, the pivotal Princess Leia, and the roguish Han Solo should pick up or download a copy of Honor Among Thieves. Before you know it, you’ll be right back in the groove, wondering when Darth Vader will swoop back into the action. This is a great way to get in the mood for the new film.