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.

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.

The Literary Mystery of Harper Lee’s sequel/prequel

Author Harper Lee

Harper Lee in 2007

As I write this, bookstores and online book vendors are getting ready to sell something unusual. After sixty years of mostly silence, the “missing” manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, that Harper Lee wrote before she wrote her masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, will be officially on sale on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. Some will love it, because Lee wrote it, some will hate it, because it isn’t just like To Kill a Mockingbird, and many people won’t care, because they don’t read. I don’t know if I will like it or not, but since I read, eventually I will tackle it.

Part of the mystery is why publish this manuscript, and why do it now? Let’s go back some sixty years. Nelle Harper Lee, daughter of a lawyer in Monroeville, Alabama, dropped out of law school to focus on her writing. Her daddy wasn’t pleased and told her that she could now support herself. So she worked days booking airline flights and wrote in her spare time. Then, friends gave her sufficient funds to work on her writing full time for a year, so she quit her job and focused on writing. In 1957, Nelle Harper Lee won a contract for her debut novel, Go Set a Watchman. Lee’s editor of the time suggested that Lee go back and rewrite the book, focusing on the events which were told in flashbacks. Having spent a year on GSAW, I’m sure Lee had mixed feelings about this more than a rewrite, but new authors have to trust experienced editors, so Lee went back and worked for two more years. The result her her labors was To Kill a Mockingbird, which was instantly successful, being selected for various book clubs. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the excellent movie version of the book added to the fame (and fortune) of this lady from a very small town in Alabama.

Not much has been published about Nelle Harper Lee, largely because she seemed unprepared for the trappings of fame which accompanied the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. Not long after the movie’s successful run, she became a literary recluse; not granting any interviews. She kept up with her friends, but she did not want to talk about her now very famous novel.

While I am certainly not famous, and don’t expect to be, I do get it. Really. My least favorite part of being a writer is answering all of the “why” questions which come from readers. For whatever reasons, many readers can’t let the work speak for itself, so they want more and more from the author. (I’ve always thought that Stephen King’s Misery is a backlash against obsessed readers.) Apparently, Ms. Lee was also not confident in her other work, so she didn’t finish her other projects after TKAM, nor did she make any efforts to have the first manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, published. Apparently, she was content to split time between her apartment in New York City and her home in Alabama.

In 2007, Ms. Lee had a stroke; she already had severe hearing loss and macular degeneration. Her older sister, Alice, an attorney, had handled many of Lee’s financial affairs, but the Lee sisters both relied upon her literary agent to handle much of the business side of publishing, especially collecting the considerable royalties from the ever popular novel. Alice Lee’s own health began to fail her when she was in her nineties, so, increasingly, people less loyal to Nelle have had greater access to her and to her finances. Without going into detail, the copyright to TKAM has changed hands a couple of times, law suits have been filed against various parties over the rights, and over rights to merchandise bearing the name of the famous novel, and a considerable amount of greed has been part of the landscape. Finally, a judge did rule Ms. Lee, who is now confined to an assisted living facility, competent to make the decision to publish this long “lost” work, and it will be available for purchase. Based on pre-sells, it is already sure to be a bestseller.

Fifty years from now, scholars will be writing papers on this matter. By all accounts, Ms. Lee had forty years of good health and good mind, and during that time, she did not seek to publish the previous manuscript. So the question is, did Harper Lee, who did not have much confidence in her later work, want readers to see this early manuscript? Or is it being published to fatten the wallets of the “handlers” of the elderly and failing Harper Lee?

That’s why this is a literary and legal mystery.

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.

234 Freebies= 2 reviews

When I signed up for the Kindle Direct eBook publishing program, one of the promotional opportunities was to give the book away for up to five days during the 90-day contract. Recently, I picked five successive days, hoping that interest in Trinity on Tylos might be rekindled, even though the book was originally released in 2006. During the give-away, it rose to around #18 on the Science Fiction/ Free list. Unfortunately, as of this post, the experiment doesn’t look to have been especially helpful. For those 234 free downloads, I have gotten (thus far) two reviews. Thankfully, both of those were good ones. Clearly, those readers are superior intellects! Gotta worry about the single return, however.

Seriously, there is some risk, beyond losing sales, to giving away an eBook. Some authors report that readers have little respect for free content and are prone to writing negative reviews. Other authors believe that few readers actually read the free content, and that is also a valid concern. As a reader, I seldom choose to read a full price book before one that was on sale or even free; but I put more thought into buying a book than into downloading a freebie.

Hopefully, more of those 200 plus Kindle customers will eventually read, enjoy, and (maybe) review Trinity on Tylos. As a science fiction story, set in the future, it is more “timeless” than my contemporary suspense novel The Gift Horse. While I believe both books are both entertaining and thought provoking, Trinity is a bit more serious thematically. I’d really like to see more folks read it. Which is why I did the giveaway, rather than the “countdown” promotion that is more popular. So, if you downloaded it but didn’t read it yet, maybe this weekend will be a good time to read a science fiction novel.

Trinity on Tylos in the Kindle Store

ToT_cover_final_webLGAfter six years, Trinity on Tylos is going to be available as a Kindle book, and I’ve priced it at $2.99, the same price as my debut novel, The Gift Horse. For this new version, I went through a copy of the eBook and made every effort to eliminate some of the errors in the original. However, there are no substantial changes, as I was fairly content with it, apart from the proofreading, which was a problem with the original publisher.

The new cover was designed by Dawn Seewer, who did the cover for The Gift Horse. The background depicts the landscape of Tylos IV, with the ships in the sky. The models in the foreground are Venice and Azareel, and I think the artist did a good job. A few of the readers of the original printed novel told me that the cover didn’t really convey the serious nature of the novel, so I hope that this new cover touches the bases.

For those who haven’t read it, here is the original synopsis that I used when shopping the manuscript:

What sacrifices must an officer make to save her shipmates from certain doom? Venice Dylenski, the young security chief of the colonizing ship, Excalibur, is faced with this dilemma after her captain makes a critical error in judgement in an encounter with an alien with superior fire power and a hidden agenda.

Trinity on Tylos begins as Venice experiences an embarrassing moment on a survey mission, one which rules out yet another planet as a hospitable home for their colony. While continuing its search, the Excalibur encounters the Archeons, an alien race characterized by gray-blue skin and a facility for language. The interchange results in Venice and a crewmate, Alathea Duke, being taken captive by the mysterious Archeon captain, Azareel. In short order, he informs them that they will play a critical role in revitalizing his dying race, that of surrogate mothers to genetically engineered Archeon offspring.

Venice, reluctant “to be the next Archeon soccer mom,” strives to escape, but her companion seems all too willing to cooperate with their captor. Thus the stage is set for multiple conflicts between human and Archeon, human and human, and humanoids verses the hostile environment of their new planetary home in the Tylos star system.

Trinity on Tylos has the elements of a good space opera: complex characters faced with myriad problems to solve, set in a future where man may have escaped the bounds of his solar system, but not the bonds of human emotions.

 

 

The Long Way Home

One of my favorite eBook authors is Darrell Bain. I think of him as the master of plots. Oh, there are some problems with his writing, primarily in the “show don’t tell” category, but this guy writes the most amazing yarns.

In the dedication of The Long Way Home, Bain recognizes three important Baen Books authors— David Weber, John Ringo, and Travis Taylor. And fans of their brand of science fiction will no doubt see that these authors influenced Bain in this space-based tale. Weber writes military science fiction on a grand scale; Ringo puts the grunt into military fiction, and Taylor is a rocket scientist who can also spin a good space opera. Bain doesn’t do any of those quite as well as these guys, but he does blend the elements quite well.

The plot is not unusual, with opening scenes of an exploratory vessel far from home, and a first contact mission gone awry. But instead of one or two explorers meeting a premature end, as happens in James Alan Gardner’s Expendable series, there is a massive loss of life and starship, and a small “longboat” known as “The Hurricane Jack” is left to ferry the survivors home. And it isn’t a short journey, hence the title. There are many obstacles, and the conflict is almost non-stop, between the “monkeyclaw” ship following the survivors, and the internal debates over matters in the tightly packed small ship. The mission is now to save the survivors and warn the human population about the vicious species they wished they had left behind. As a small vessel, the longboat must stop to scavenge material, and every stop has some built-in danger. Unlike some writers, Bain is not afraid to kill off his characters, which ramps up the peril factor.

Fans of space exploration stories should enjoy the action-packed suspenseful voyage of “The Hurricane Jack” in Darrell Bain’s The Long Way Home.

Where are all the science fiction readers?

I recently read a post on SFReader/SFWatcher stating that there are only 20,000 regular readers of science fiction. That’s fewer folks than live in my home county here in Georgia, making this a really astonishing statistic. The webmaster at SFR/SFW is now paying for movie reviews, in hopes of growing the website. No compensation is offered to reviewers of novels, of course.

When I was taking Mythology in Literature during grad school, one of our texts was by Joseph Campbell, who says that science fiction is mythology for modern people. If science fiction is so important culturally, why aren’t more people reading it, and what might attract a larger readership?

In 2004, Business Week ran an article entitled ScFi: Novel Inspiration which lists four valid reasons for reading science fiction. They include looking for new inventions, understanding the social consequences of invention, learning the lexicon of the future, and inspiring young minds. As America stagnates, and it really is doing just that, I wonder if our lack of wonder is at fault.

While science fiction does more than explore invention, that is one important aspect of it. A website called Technovelgy.com lists almost two thousand ideas which began within the pages of science fiction. Most people know that Captain Nemo’s ship beneath the sea predates the submarine, but how many folks know that Verne also predicted live news conferences, retro-rockets, and was the first to postulate that space travelers would have to deal with being weightless?

One of my favorite SF authors, Robert A. Heinlein, employs 3-D television, exoskeletons for the military, and smart lanes on the highway. All of these are in the later stages of development, and will be as much a part of our future as the “pocket phone” (which he used in “Assignment in Eternity” in 1953) is today.

Recently Fortune magazine published an article about the dearth of math and science students in the United States. Of the 8,000 students who graduated from U. S. colleges with a Ph.D in engineering  this spring, two-thirds were foreign nationals. Just a few years ago, most of those students might have stayed in America, but today, the majority will return to their home countries, because the opportunities to use the skills they just learned are there, and not here.

The fastest-growing college majors in America as of 2007, says the U.S. Education Department, were parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies, as well as security and protective services.” (Fortune, July 29, 2010) As Americans turn their collective backs on science (and science fiction) our nation will continue down the road to economic ruin.

In my research on why readers don’t enjoy science fiction, a number of reasons were mentioned, including:

“It’s too hard to read.” 

“The future in science fiction literature is too dark.”

“The science is bad.”

All of those reasons might have some merit, but there is a reason, which should have no merit, that I encountered while promoting Trinity on Tylos: There is a social stigma associated with reading science fiction. Ouch!

Oddly, people who see movies such as AvatarThe Dark Knight, or Jurassic Park don’t seem to feel that society is shunning them when they view science fiction on the big screen. In fact, many of the top grossing films of all time are either science fiction, fantasy, or have some ties to speculative literature. Now, the question is, how do we get those youngsters to make the leap from looking, to reading, and on to inventing?

That question is far more important than expanding market share for science fiction, which is stuck at a mere six percent of book sales. What America must accomplish, to expand the job market and our economy, is to expand the minds of our younger citizens. Science fiction should have a role in that, but someone, somewhere, must introduce it to them, and the earlier, the better.

Review of Savage Survival

When many people view an author as just fabulous, that writer sells boatloads of books. Remember when everyone was reading the latest Stephen King? Other authors write memorable books, but they only do it once— Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee come to mind. Some writers are prolific, but it seems impossible to remember the plot of any specific book. Numerous such authors are still writing, but I am reluctant to name a living one, since I really don’t want to make my readers angry. So, I will list a prolific author who probably won’t complain, since she is no longer writing— Barbara Cartland. She wrote over six hundred novels, but I can’t recall any standouts.

Then there are some obscure writers who ought to be less so, and Darrell Bain is one of them. I’ve read several of his yarns, and they are invariably memorable. Savage Survival is typical Bain— something extraordinary interrupts ordinary, and characters rise to the occasion, or they don’t. I’ve seen grace under pressure— my mother was almost always cool and competent, regardless of her circumstances. My husband has that same quality— he manages the most difficult of situations without unnecessary drama. Such people have character, and I greatly admire that quality.

In Savage Survival, the main character, Lyda Brightner, is eleven years old. Yes, she comes of age, rather quickly, but she remains vulnerable enough for readers to be empathetic to her. Various adults interact with Lyda as the story unfolds, but the focus is always on her. Not since Oliver Twist have I followed a youngster through so many trials. Like Dickens’ classic tale of social inequality, Bain’s story is about the crucible of humanity under extreme pressure, but it is also about how people can either make bad times better or worse. There is something distinctly old-fashioned in Bain’s themes, and I don’t intend that as a criticism. In Bain’s books, he tells you who is good and who is bad, and those who are evil suffer for their wrongs, usually at the hands of the hero. Pretense, which is an integral part of modern life, is quickly exposed in Bain’s pressure cooker, and Lyda has no qualms about dispensing justice. Such authenticity is only found in fiction these days, which is ironic, isn’t it?

The story is science fiction, but it is soft-scifi, because Bain never bothers explaining how anything works. Instead, he spends most of the novel showing how people react to it. With my fairly busy schedule,  I often begin a book and I’m still working on it a week later. Others are more compelling. Savage Survival took me about 24 hours, and that is only because I do have to sleep sometime. Lyda Brightner got under my skin in such a way that I just had to know how it was all going to play out.

I read the eBook version, but I believe the publisher, Double Dragon, also put a few hundred into print. Whether you choose electrons or ink and paper, I highly recommend Bain’s books, and this particular title is quite worthy.