Quick reads from the past few months

I read a lot of digital material these days, and all too often, it is via “Apple News” or some other platform, and thus, I don’t comment or critique it in any way. However, I also enjoy books via the Kindle app, and some of those I have reviewed on Amazon, so here are some of those reviews and/or comments from the last six or seven months.


Exercise and MentalI saw this “book” entitled Exercise and Mental Health featured on a site called “Deal News” as a freebie. I am loathe to pan a free book, but it is not really a book at all. Instead, this little 27 page document is like a course outline. While I saw no overt problems, the content might be best as a prompt to do further research, rather than an actual source of information.

After reading it, I did use Galileo, a database of articles available via libraries in Georgia, to do some research, so it was somewhat helpful.

 

More than HappyUnfortunately, several aspects of “modern” life have helped create a culture of spoiled and unpleasant children. Hubby and I have spent lots of money on everything from computers and video game consoles to therapists, and our kids are not happy people. That is just plain sad, but it is largely true. So, when I saw this book (at a local discount store) I was intrigued. When the title says that these children are More than Happy, I was thinking that I’d take sorta happy. So, my initial reading began with a question: Can my grandchildren be happier than my own children? Perhaps.

Authors Miller and Stutzman have done a remarkable job of breaking down the core differences between the way that Amish children are brought up and the way that “modern” people rear their children. Occasionally, stories or concepts are repeated, but for the most part this book offers sound wisdom on every page. While there are some religious concepts in the book, it isn’t overly preachy. Instead, it is filled with observations and common sense.

Actually, I just ordered two more copies of this book to share with others because I think it is that important and that worthy. Hopefully, the recipients will take the time to read it, because there are a lot of children who can benefit from the suggestions in this practical guide to simpler lives and happier kids.


DoubtI must say that it has been a while since I read Doubt, but I do remember enjoying it. For those who are not “Amazon Prime” members, one of the benefits of that is a program called “Kindle First” which offers a choice of a freebie each month. I picked this one. Here’s what I wrote on Amazon:

The main character is a winner, for sure. Readers enjoy being able to identify with the protagonist, and Caroline’s first job as a lawyer is a successful blend of nerves and hope. Other characters are not as engaging, but work well enough. The plot is good and moves swiftly along.

I really liked this novel. Hope to read others in the series.


Black RainBlack Rain is a novel featured via the Kindle First program’s science fiction genre.

This book does and does not remind me of Robert Heinlein’s Friday, in which the sci fit grand master took on genetic engineering and some of the associated ethical quandaries that will no doubt emerge as that technology matures. But Heinlein had a lot more hope (and occasional humor) in his story. In Black Rain, there is also a distinct distopian slant to the plot, as in the Hunger Games trilogy. Fans of science fiction, especially near future cautionary takes will really like this tale. It is well written, suspense filled, and the characters are reasonably well drawn. The setting makes great use of New York City, which would make it a sound basis for a film in the Urban Fantasy genre.


Beacon 23I’m not entirely sure where I first heard of Hugh Howey, but he is one of those independent science fiction authors who is successful without the assistance of a publishing house. I love to support such endeavors, and it is easy to recommend Beacon 23. Here’s my super brief Amazon review:

After being in battle, a war hero just wants to be alone. So he takes the job of minding Beacon 23. Mostly, he is alone with his thoughts. But…with a back story like this protagonist’s, those thoughts are not quiet.

I like psychological novels, and I love sci fi. This serialized novel blends those two remarkably well.

99¢ Promotion for Trinity on Tylos

ToT_cover_final_webLG

My science fiction novel will soon be on sale for just 99¢

I’m going to usher in spring by offering my science fiction novel at a mere 99¢ for four days, beginning on March 21. Although it has only had modest sales success, it has the best reviews of any of my novels (under Pamela J. Dodd or my other pen name) and I consider it to be a good read. One of the cooler aspects of writing science fiction is that unlike contemporary fiction, the story does not suffer as much from being “out of date.”

The current version has a few minor edits, but is close to the original, apart from the cover. No one liked the cartoonish cover designed by an artist working for Whiskey Creek Press, so I had a new one designed when I got the rights back. The cover depicts the main character, Venice, shortly after she is abducted by Azareel, the last living Archon. The Archon colony is in the background, as are the space going vessels of the Terrans and the Archons. His vision is to re-create his people, using the reluctant wombs of his human captives. And, as one professional reviewer stated, this is hardly a new plot line. But….I do not believe that life is black and white, and the good vs. evil in this novel is cast in shades of gray. Oh, Azareel is ruthless and sometimes just plain mean. Still, he has a reason for what he is doing. The best villains always do, of course.

In time, Venice comes to accept certain realities, and that’s when this novel grows up. Fans of science fiction, especially as it explores the human condition, should enjoy Trinity on Tylos.

Way back when it was released, this novel was a “recommended read” at Fallen Angels reviews, and it garnered several other positive reviews. There are newer reviews by customers on Amazon, too.

Alarm of War— The Other Side of Fear

Alarm of War IIA while back, I wrote a positive review of Kennedy Hudner’s Alarm of War. Perhaps its greatest downside was that it clearly was intended to have a sequel. For a few months, I checked Amazon, hoping that Hudner had released the second part, but after a while, I quit looking. Then, as I reviewed my “keeper” files, I saw Alarm of War and looked again. Low and behold, Alarm of War, Book II: The Other Side of Fear was published in 2014. Finally, I had the sequel, but alas, it’s really part II of a trilogy. So, I am back to waiting.

However, it would be remiss to not review the second book. So, here’s a true confession: I went back and re-read the Alarm of War because it had been so long that I was certain I needed a refresher. Good plan, as I enjoyed it almost as much the second time. Once I had swiped the last page, I jumped right into The Other Side of Fear, and it wowed me from the opening scene.

While there are some stereotypical situations and characters, there is plenty of depth to Hudner’s ensemble of main characters, who met as they went through basic training during the first novel. My favorite is Emily Tuttle, a former history teacher with a brilliant grasp of military strategy. Other main characters include Grant Skiffington, the favored son of an admiral; Hiram Brill, a geeky guy who instinctively puts together intelligence into workable prophecies; and Marine sergeant Maria Sanchez, who is super gung ho, but reads books and likes to hang out with the nerd, Hiram. These characters all had intertwining adventures in the first book and book two immediately picks up the action.

Rather than write a bunch of spoilers, I will say this: Mr. Hudner’s series reminds me quite a lot of the early works of David Weber, the creator of the great Honor Harrington series. But, by using the ensemble, rather than centering on one character, Hudner is able to bring in various aspects of his universe, but keep the reader’s interest. At times, Weber spends more time explaining his villains than his heroine, and that has always bothered me. As a huge fan of military sci fi in general, and Honor Harrington in particular, it is hard to say this, but, “Move over, Mr. Weber.” Kennedy Hudner is writing some seriously kick-butt military sci-fi. Really.

As of this writing, the first book is a bargain at 99¢, and The Other Side of Fear is $3.99. My gosh, so much entertainment for less than the price of a movie ticket!

 

Wild Irish Heart— quick review and comments

Irish romanceWhile I don’t often read romance, February is the month to do so, now isn’t it? This novel is a bit of mystery, but with plenty of romance. It is not, however, one where a major sexual encounter happens before a third of the book is over. FYI!

Tricia O’Malley’s Wild Irish Heart (The Mystic Cove Series Book 1) begins the “Mystic Cove Series,” and it is a pleasant read, if not a compelling one. Our heroine, Keelin O’Brien, has been reared in Boston, by her successful real estate agent mother, who left Ireland and Keelin’s dad behind long ago. For reasons that are a bit of a mystery to Keelin, her mother doesn’t talk about the past, especially about Ireland. Soon, the reader learns that Keelin herself is a bit of a mystery, too, because she has a power that most of us don’t have.

When an ancient book arrives with a note which simply says, “It is time,” Keelin decides to go to Ireland, on an extended visit with the family that her mother shunned long ago. Thus begins her dual quest: to learn her past, and to see how her gift fits into her future. There are not many surprises on this journey, but Keelin does struggle to figure out how her attraction to a certain fellow that she meets early on will fit into her new life. Or is she somehow mistaken, and this isn’t the guy for her?

This novel has some supernatural elements, but it is mostly a bit of a mystery wrapped up in romantic garb. And it is a nice read for the month which features Valentine’s Day.

BTW, I read the Kindle version, as it was featured as a freebie a while back, and as of this post, the current price is 0.00. According to Amazon, it is also available in paperback and as an Audible book, if you like that format.

Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: The Real West

My dad was fond of westerns, mostly on television, as we didn’t have the cash to visit the cinema often, and he wasn’t a reader. His favorites were Gunsmoke the mini-series Lonesome Dove. However, we watched a lot of them in the day. So the names Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Daniel Boone, Billy the Kid, General Custer, Davy Crockett, and Doc Holliday seem rather familiar. As I read Bill O’Reilly’s book, Legends and Lies: The Real West, I got the impression that he was attempting to inform those of us who learned our history of the west by watching the Hollywood versions that much of what we remember might fall within the two categories: legends and lies. Indeed, the afterward explains how westerns came to be such a staple in early films and series television, and I enjoyed that more than any other part of this book.

Overall, I enjoyed O’Reilly’s informative text, but after reading Killing Patton (see my previous post) this one was a bit of a let down. The stories were not nearly as compelling as the story of Patton. However, it is interesting, and the period photos are really nifty. For those who are students of historical figures in the old West, this might be too basic, but for casual readers, the tone and depth is just right.

I read the Kindle version, so the pictures were a bit hard to see. For anyone really interested in the photography, the hard cover might be better.

Reviews for Trinity on Tylos

ToT_cover_final_webLGRecently, my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, got a mention on the Goodkindles site. While preparing the copy, I did a web search for reviews, because I wasn’t too sure how many of those are still available. Surprisingly, I found a few, which were done based on the first edition, published by Whiskey Creek Press. Although they got the title wrong, I got a fairly good review from “The Romance Studio” site. Apparently that title is difficult, because the folks over at Books for a Buck misspelled it, too, but it is a decent review. And, the one by Harriet Klausner appears on several sites, including Bookreview.com. The best review I received was over at Fallen Angels Reviews, of course. While searching, I also noted that my efforts to publicize it have resulted in pirated copies online. Oh, here’s another one! And another one!  I guess I should be flattered that someone thinks it is worth stealing. 🙂 I’m proud of Trinity on Tylos, and I created the Kindle edition to attract new readers, so I hope the Goodkindles listing will help. Check it out!

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.

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.

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….

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.