Shaken (Quake Runner Book 1) by Kevin Tumlinson— brief review and commentary

This is a pretty good novel. The main character, Alex Kayne, is sassy, super smart, and just vulnerable enough to avoid the “heroine can’t die” syndrome that afflicts almost all comic book super hero characters, or Lara Croft (heroine of the Tomb Raider games/films). Alex is a fugitive computer whiz who needs something to do as she hides from all the forces who want to either kill her or “bring her to justice”, so she kinda does her version of “The Equalizer” in that she helps people who have a specific need. The needy person in Shaken is a surfer/marine biologist named Abbey, who lost an arm to an encounter with a shark. Abbey received a prototype bionic arm, in part due to her high profile injury, and someone stole it. The arm and it’s charger, gone. Who the heck steals a limb from an amputee? (Literate folks might respond with another story, “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Conner, but I digress.)

So, we have Alex Kayne, who manages to change her appearance, her lodging, her cell phone, and her method of transportation more frequently than anyone in any spy novel I’ve ever read. In this book, she is mostly hiding out in Disney World. Other characters include Eric Symon, the FBI agent who nearly nabs fugitive Alex, Abbey who needs her arm back, and a cast of suspects or villains, depending on how the mystery unfolds. The action in this novel is well told, and not quite believable, but that’s part of the fun of it all.

Readers who enjoy puzzles and/or action heroines and want to be entertained for an evening (or two) should try Shaken (Quake Runner Book 1.)

Now, for the commentary. This was my first book by Kevin Tumlinson, but I certainly intend to try another. At the end of this book there’s a note wherein the author explains that he didn’t plan to self-publish this novel, intending to put it in the hands of an agent. However, he thought better of it and put it into his self-publishing stable of products. For many authors (yours truly included) self-publishing is better, due to control of the process and potential financial gain. That decision is understandable, but when the author said he wrote the book in roughly 15 days, I was shocked. Shocked.

Y’all, fifteen days is like two weeks. I can’t edit a book in two weeks, much less go from beginning to end. Wow. I had a whole new perspective on the novel after that. I thought it was a good, if not spectacular read, with very few errors. However, the very idea that such a book could be dreamed up and written in such a short time is simply hard to believe. However, as the author of Ecclesiastes says, “There is no new thing under the sun.” Shaken is a bit like that, in that the elements in the story have been used before, but perhaps not in precisely this manner. The author’s website is a feast for those who want to know more about marketing and branding, especially marketing self-published novels. Clearly, Tumlinson is not just prolific, but also understands how to get the product to customers, too.

More from D.A. Boulter— One Trade Too Many and Trading for War

Some years ago, I discovered D.A. Boulter’s ebook series about a family of traders who traveled via space going vessels to various ports of call. Recently, I bought a couple more entries in the series, books 3 and 4, with the respective titles above.

As I previously touched upon earlier books in the series, here are links to Courtesan, Trading for the Stars, and Trading for a Dream. I’ve also read some of his stand alone books and other series, but the Yrden Chronicles remain my favorites in his growing booklist.

In One Trade Too Many, the Clay and Colleen Yrden are doing what their family does, traveling, trading, and raising their kids onboard one of the combo passenger and cargo ships, Blue Powder. During this entry, the Captain of Blue Powder (Clay Yrden) asks the head of security, Adrian Telford, to play passenger in an attempt to ferret out a possible saboteur, and one of the passengers, a widow, begins stalking Mr. Telford. While not boring, the story takes a while to build, but there is significant suspense toward the end of this third volume of the Trading series, and it has a cliff hanger ending. Some folks hate such endings, but as I purchased books 3 and 4 at the same time, I just swiped on over and read Trading for War. The latter is largely about warfare, and focuses on Colleen Yrden, who has a host of problems: her husband is missing, her son is growing into manhood with revenge on his mind, her family’s business is being disrupted by pirates and mercenaries, and her two mothers hate each other’s guts.

Nowadays, authors tend to follow other forms of media and rely upon bad language, sensuality, and inorganic plot twists to entertain readers. D.A. Boulter’s stories do not have any of those characteristics. Indeed, while not written for kids, or even young adults, these stories are entertaining but almost squeaky clean. Honestly, it is quite refreshing to read Boulter’s stories, which rely more upon world building, character evolution, and wholesome themes than anything shocking.

Fans of science fiction and multi volume stories should take a look at the works of D. A. Boulter. He’s one of the first eBook authors I ever read, and he remains a favorite a decade after I discovered his work.

Re-Reading, The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro

My recent visit to a used bookstore netted me a couple of relics from my past reading, including a paperback of Catherine Asaro’s The Quantum Rose. For those who have not read any of Asaro’s Skolian saga, this book might make a good starting point, but it is probably a better read for those who are already familiar with this rather involved science fiction/fantasy/romance series.

The Quantum Rose won the 2001 Nebula Award

Asaro’s bio is almost as mind-boggling as her stories: She holds a doctorate in chemical physics, and she is a former ballerina, jazz dancer, and sometime singer. Her books include near future science fiction, such as The Veiled Web and the Phoenix Code, the 14 (or so) volume Skolian saga, which begins with Primary Inversion, The Lost Continent series, The Uplift Saga series, and more.

For me, this book is really hard to quantify. One tag line is that it is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. Uh, not really. Another is that it is a physics allegory, and the author ‘s note at the end makes every effort to explain the book via that lens, and while interesting, I kinda got lost in her description of particle physics after a while. Certainly this book is a romantic science fiction story, and there’s really not much high brow competition in that sub-genre. While readable, Asaro is never simplistic.

This story does fill in some gaps in the Skolian saga, which generally tells the story of members of the Ruby Dynasty in a book (or two.) Interestingly, the point of view character in The Quantum Rose is Kamoj Argali, a young ruler of an impoverished province on a backward planet, and not a member of the Ruby Dynasty. Kamoj does end up entangled in their saga, because she becomes involved with Vyrl, one of the Ruby Dynasty, who is sojourning on her planet for a while, and they end up falling in love.

The first part of the book is all about Kamoj, Vyrl, and the complications of her previous engagement to a local leader of questionable morals, Jax Ironbridge. This first half is more romance than sci-fi, although sci-fi elements are present. The second half is mostly set off of that world, filling in certain backstory aspects of the Skolian saga, with more science fiction and a heavy dose of fantasy. At this point, the romance takes a back seat to the political machinations that are part and parcel of the Skolian yarn.

While I enjoyed The Quantum Rose once again, I have trouble understanding why it won the Nebula award, which goes to the best science fiction novel of the year (via a vote of the SFWA). Yes, it is skillfully written and the quantum part of the title is justified, at least in the author’s notes after the novel, as “playing with quantum scattering theory.” Still, I have to wonder if it was really the very best science fiction novel of 2000. I like most of the Asaro novels I have read, and I think some of the others are better than The Quantum Rose. Hum, maybe it was the lack of competition.

Re-reading, Goddess by Mistake

Recently, I got my hands on a used copy of a book I loaned and lost, Goddess by Mistake by P.C. Cast. Often, books are so similar that I don’t remember them well enough to write a decent review a week or two after I have finished them. Goddess by Mistake was memorable for me, so much so that I remembered it almost two decades after my first reading of it, so when I scored a used one on eBay, I put it at the top of to be read pile. The story still seems fresh, but the sassy narrator is the main reason I liked it then, and why I still like it. For those who want to know more, here’s a link to my “old” blog.

http://pamspages.blogspot.com/2007/08/

Searching for Shelter: Aftermath Book 1—a brief review

In short, this is a disaster upon disaster yarn.

Searching for Shelter is actually a pretty good book. I was a bit surprised that it holds together as well as it does, with three authors listed. While I haven’t done a collaboration novel, most of them involve a “big name” author lending a helping hand to a newbie, or one author does an outline while another does the grunt work. I have no idea how these three folks did it, but Searching for Shelter gets better as it goes along, and it goes along at a good pace.

As a southerner, and one who has travelled in Mississippi, I appreciated the setting and the types of characters that populate the novel. Or maybe I liked it because I grew up in the era when “disaster movies” such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Andromeda Strain were blockbusters at the theatre. Anyway, this novel is in the genre of “you need to be a prepper to survive into the next book” that seems to be growing in popularity. While not as pedantic as the last “prepper” novel I read, this one does have some instruction interwoven into the plot.

A rather large cast of characters, in the Mississippi delta region, are introduced in the early chapters. They include a young couple (Edward and Maria) and their midwife (April), as their first child is about to be born in the midst of the biggest hurricane anyone in that hurricane prone area has ever seen. Indeed, the storm is labeled a category six (and there are only cat 1-5 storms now, so that lets the reader know just how bad this rascal is going to be for the landscape and its citizens.) Another main character is Rita Sloan, a young lady with a very troubled past, desperate to get home, who ultimately seeks shelter in a mechanic’s garage, along with the owner of the shop and his nephew. Other important characters include prisoners at the state penitentiary, as those are invariably built in rural areas. The storm first knocks down almost every building, then the storm surge floods all but the highest ground. In short, this is a disaster upon disaster yarn. As this is a novel about being prepared, or not, most characters have a skill or a stash, or want to take something from someone else. For instance, Edward and Maria have lots of food stores, as they are farmers, while April desperately wants to get home to her stash, which includes a good supply of medical items, from medicine to bandages. Even Rita has her “go bag” in the car and manages to hang onto it through the entire book.

Like the Johnny Cash song, eventually all of these characters, and a slew of others, are goin’ to Jackson. However, each one’s journey is fraught with peril, from ne’er do wells looting and stealing to gators looking for their next meal. And, once the characters reach the city, the devastation is so great and the population so ill prepared, that the shelter they are seeking remains elusive. Thus, while some plot lines are resolved, many are left for the successive novels to explore.

I haven’t decided to purchase books 2 and 3, but they are definitely on my “maybe” list.

Nowadays, there’s just so much free and cheap reading available. And, I’m a total reading glutton. For real!

Time for Dystopian Science Fiction?

Reader’s Alley, a nifty site for bargain eBook lovers, divides their science fiction offerings into sub-genres: sci-fi romance, sci-fi thriller, and science fiction, dystopian. While those first two descriptors would seem self-evident, the dystopian flavor is considered by some (mostly jaded members of academia) as the only serious science fiction. Typically, I avoid reading dystopias because they tend to be so darned depressing. But, with all that is happening in the news, which I also try to avoid, perhaps it is time to take a look at the genre.

One of the finest books about the history of science fiction is Brian Aldiss’ Trillion Year Spree, which covers science fiction literature from its beginnings to the early 1980s. Aldiss does discuss many sub-genres, but the thread of dystopia runs strongly throughout his encyclopedia of science fiction in printed form. The term, dystopia, is applicable to “a world in which everything is imperfect, and everything goes terribly wrong. Dystopian literature shows us a nightmarish image about what might happen to the world in the near future. Usually the main themes of dystopian works are rebellion, oppression, revolutions, wars, overpopulation, and disasters. On the other hand, Utopia is a perfect world – exactly opposite of dystopia.”

Science has, until recently, been viewed as a two edged sword; while it can make life much better, mis-use of science has been the root of all sorts of evils. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is often considered to be the first science fiction novel, and the dark side of science is clearly the central theme of the novel. Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment and Rappacini’s Daughter, short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, also feature mis-use of science as their main themes. When teaching those stories, which used to be in many American Lit anthologies, one way to make it simple for students is to say, “Hawthorne is basically telling his readers, ‘don’t mess around with Mother Nature’.”

Later novelists fine tuned dystopian themes, with societies becoming more and more restrictive upon the populace. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 share these themes, “including the consequences of totalitarianismmass surveillance, and repressive regimentation of persons and behaviours within society.” Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, Harrison Burgeron is one of the most widely read dystopian stories, due to its inclusion in anthologies for students, and I recently read a news story liking our current government policies to Vonnegut’s didactic work. Y’all, it is scary when dystopia becomes reality.

Of course, many fans of science fiction today seldom, if ever, read it. Instead, what they know of utopia and dystopia is presented via video. Early episodes of Star Trek explored both sides of the scientific divide. The Ultimate Computer, rather dated today, explored the man vs. machine conflict, using future war games as a setting for its rather disturbing premise. Various dystopian novels have been adapted to long form (movies) video, including everything from 1984 to Planet of the Apes. There are literally dozens of dystopian sci fi films. Some are rather laughable now (Mad Max?) but others are quite troubling.

My own fiction, which has many conflicts for characters to attempt to resolve, certainly isn’t “happily ever after, ” but it isn’t as dark as some of these works, and that’s because my outlook on life is more pragmatic. Hopefully, there will be some gravitation away from the totalitarian policies of modern politicians and administrators. But, when I consider what I am seeing when I do go out and about, I wonder. I really do. Remember this: In each fictional dystopia, the goal was to make things better for certain segments of the population, and bad outcomes are unhappy accidents. Be careful what you wish for—

Trish Milburn’s “Her Cowboy Prince” review

For readers who want an up to date romance about courtship, then this book merits your attention.

Modern romances are often more about sex than the “getting to know you” that dominated romances in previous decades. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for the first kiss to be followed by sexual fulfillment, and that often happens a third of the way through the narrative. Thus, many modern romances are about the sexual relationship, not about courtship. Her Cowboy Prince is old fashioned, but it is a recent publication, and I liked it very much for that reason. Another reviewer called it “clean” and that’s fair, I suppose. All too often, I’ve downloaded a romance with a recent publication date, only to find references to commonalities from decades ago, such as cassette tapes or pay phones. It may be fun to read an author’s backlist, but please don’t re-release books that are decades old and pretend they are new! In Her Cowboy Prince, the neighbor disturbs Melody by playing video games at all hours; the heroine up cycles items she purchases at thrift stores using techniques she garnered from watching HGTV; the resort uses its website to attract customers for their newest events, and so forth. Yep, this story’s not recycled material, which is refreshing.

Her Cowboy Prince has a cute title and stock cover cute guy on the cover, but the plot is a bit more serious. Melody Shaw is a housekeeper at a spa/resort in Montana, but she is there because she has had to go into witness protection after she testified against her stepmother, who had her father killed and managed to deprive Melody of ownership of the pharmaceutical company that he founded. Oh, and for good measure, Melody’s step-sister tried to have her murdered, so Melody has reasons to keep a very low profile. The housekeeper job across the country from her former home in Atlanta should be safe, but Melody can’t quite keep from looking over her shoulder at everyone.

Justin McQueen, a newly eligible bachelor since he figured out that his latest fiancée was a gold digger out to get everything he owned, runs the resort where Melody works. Before long, the attractive and way too smart for her job housekeeper attracts his attention. The author could have them jump each other’s bones in one of the guest rooms, but she restrains her characters. They plan events for the resort. They run into each other at a local cafe. She rescues his dad from a highway accident. As he takes her home from work, he stops to show her the stars. In short, they develop a romantic relationship. However, Justin is aware that there’s something mysterious in her reluctance to enjoy his company, while Melody is continually afraid of breaking her cover and inviting her troubled past into her new digs in Montana.

Author Trish Milburn does a better than average job using her settings, scenic Montana and metro Atlanta, to help create an interesting story. While the plot is somewhat predictable, there are no jarring moments when the reader just can’t suspend disbelief. The characters are mostly engaging, from the ever suspicious heroine and the diligent hero, to the displaced southern thrift shop owner and the poor but proud video game playing neighbor whom Melody befriends. The villains are mostly off stage, but the threat is sufficient to provide suspense for the reader, along with Melody and Justin.

For readers who want to experience vicarious sex, this book would not be appropriate, but for readers who want an up to date romance, about courtship, then this book merits your attention.

BTW, I am reviewing the book because I liked it, not because I got a free copy for review purposes.

The Crown— review and commentary

Which is which?

Netflix has some amazing original content, and one of its best efforts thus far has been The Crown, a somewhat fictional series based on the reign of Elizabeth II. Written and produced by Peter Morgan, this series begins while Elizabeth is still a youngster, but when her father takes over for his brother (who abdicated the throne so he could be with his “commoner/divorcé” lover) Elizabeth becomes the heir to the throne. From that time period, her father grooms her to serve the people and the royal family, a/k/a The Crown. Seasons 1 and 2 feature Claire Foy as Elizabeth, and former “Dr. Who” Matt Smith is Prince Philip. Perhaps the best performance in this award winning season goes to John Lithgow as an aging Winston Churchill, who guides and yet admires the young monarch as she works to live up to the responsibility thrust upon her when her father dies at a fairly young age.

The Crown does a fantastic job of intertwining history and some suppostion, thus educating a new generation about some of the most important (or at least entertaining) events in United Kingdom in the past few decades. Each season spans several years, so the cast changes in order to better show the aging of the characters. For instance, while Claire Foy is Elizabeth in the first two seasons, the queen is portrayed by Olivia Coleman in seasons three and four. The latter dropped onto Netflix November 15, and Coleman does a really good job as the middle aged sovereign, as does Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher. Another season four cast addition is Emma Corrin, who bears more than a passing resemblance to young Princess Diana. The series has been mostly been praised, but season four is a bit more controversial. Since this season portrays the “fairy tale romance” between Prince Charles and Diana, then quickly lays out the conflicted marital mess that ensued, because apparently Charles didn’t love Diana at all, but maintained his relationship with his former lover, Camilla Parker-Bowles, during most of the marriage, some viewers (and those close to the real people) have been a bit riled.

Of course, Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated then divorced, but younger fans apparently didn’t realize the “why” in the divorce until The Crown brought this back in a big way on the small screen. Recently, the social media accounts of Prince Charles and (now wife) Camilla have been inundated with snarky posts. Furthermore, officials in the U.K. have asked producers of The Crown to assure the public that the show is fictional.

History only works after the fact. Peter Morgan (series creator and chief writer) benefits from the many publications about the British royals, and is able to pick and choose what he presents to the audience in The Crown. Mostly the characterizations and storylines seem spot on, but those close to the royal family point to discrepancies, and no doubt some “fiction” does come in. Regardless of these points, The Crown has extraordinarily high production values. The cast is first rate, the scripts mostly entertaining; and the sets, costumes, and locations all contribute to the feeling of being an eyewitness to history. If you haven’t seen it yet, this series is one of the very best shows on Netflix.

Last Stand series by William Weber—review and commentary

Last Stand: The Complete Box Set

From time to time, I’m offered a “box set” of eBooks, which strikes me as funny as there is obviously no box, just a longer than normal eBook. While these often seem to be great values, I seldom read an entire series. Last Stand is different, because I did indeed read all four books, and while I enjoyed them, I liked each one a little less, but that’s just me and what I Prefer to read, rather than any flaws in the books themselves.

Book one, Surviving America’s Collapse, was so suspenseful that I read it in less than 24 hours. Apparently survivalist/prepper books are a sub-genre, but this is my first such book. Viewed simply as fiction, readers might be annoyed, as the narrative often becomes pedantic, teaching survivalist techniques to the reader, but I rather enjoyed those segments. In short, the story begins with the hero, former Army officer John Mack, being the only guy in his neighborhood who understands that the vehicles, phones, and other conveniences aren’t working because some entity set off an “EMP” device. Mack rescues his wife, then his children, thinking they will soon retreat to his survivalist hideaway cabin, but his wife convinces him to remain in their neighborhood, to assist their friends. This proves to be increasingly difficult, as resources dwindle and nefarious elements attempt to takeover their community.

Book two, Patriots, begins in the second setting, the Mack family hideaway. The canvas of conflict widens a bit in this book, as Mack realizes the scope of the attack upon America, and feels the need to take up arms not just to defend his family, but his country. Book three, Warlords, is a bit darker in tone, as the forces behind the attack upon America begin divvying up the country. Book four, Turning the Tide, is on a grander scale, as Mack is one cog in the military effort to fight back against the foreign powers that seem to have figured out how to conquer the United States.

Each of these books has a fictional story, but invariably the author uses his story to also instruct the reader. Those who like lots of details about the military and/or weaponry might like these books more than I did, but I did enjoy them. Some of the characterizations are fairly stereotypical, and sometimes the main characters are able to overcome situations which would probably be hopeless without the assistance of the author. So, suspending one’s disbelief a bit is a necessary skill for staying with the series. Still, the suspense is sufficient to keep the reader turning the pages.

Survivalists, military buffs, and those who enjoy suspense will all find something to like in Last Stand. As of this post, the price for the eBook set is three bucks, which is a down payment on a hamburger! I can’t think of anything as entertaining as these books for that price, so take a look. These books are also available in paperback and as audio books, and all have hundreds of ratings on Goodreads, mostly 4-5 stars.

Halt and Catch Fire—a series to catch on Netflix

As we aren’t “cable” subscribers, sometimes we miss a show that was commissioned for a network. Halt and Catch Fire is such a series, as it was originally shown on AMC. Honestly, the title is so weird that I would have never given it a thought, but one of those “Best things to watch on Netflix” lists gave it a good review, so hubby and I decided to give it a go.

Of late, it has been our favorite binge-watch. Usually, I wait until finishing a series before reviewing it, but Halt and Catch Fire ran for four seasons, and we are mostly through season three, so it’s time to let y’all in on this excellent period drama.

First off, the title has something to do with writing computer code, but I don’t remember what it means (and it probably doesn’t matter). I like computers; I’m typing on a MacBook Pro right now! This show is about the computer revolution, and how you view it might depend upon your age. If you are younger, this show will be a bit historical. But, if you are a somewhat chronologically gifted, you probably remember the first computers. As a classroom teacher, I remember begging to put computers into my classroom so we could edit copy for the yearbook. Back in the 80s, editorial changes for typewritten copy were costing us hundeds of dollars per year, so I managed to get a couple of surplus Apple IIe computers. They had green flashing characters and those big floppy drives, but they saved us some dough and were my intro into the modern age of publishing. Then I got a Mac SE that used smaller disks. That little machine was bequeathed to use from an administrator who felt some pity for the plebes in the classroom, and it was so different that I took it home over the summer to learn how to use it. I digress, but the 80s is the era where HACF begins.

The characters who come together in the first episode represent various aspects of the nascent computer business. In season one, the show is set in Texas (the Silicon Plain) but the group moves to Silicon Valley in later seasons. Joe is the super salesman who cut his teeth at IBM and wants to create a better personal computer. Gordon is an engineer who already made a better computer, but since the machine failed, he’s slogging along at Cardiff Electric, a company that produces software for mainframes and tries to compete with IBM. His wife, Donna, is a brilliant computer developer who is relegated to support work at the Texas Instruments learning division, because she and Gordon need to feed their family. The catalyst for change is Cameron, a female college drop out who writes code better than Shakespeare wrote plays. Cameron is recruited by Joe to come to work at Cardiff Electric, where he’s a recent hire. The company manager, John Bosworth (Boz), is just trying to make the owner happy and is baffled by the changes that are coming to the company as these players all work together to build a better computer.

This show is well-written and well-acted by the ensemble cast. As I wrote that summary, it sounds a bit boring. Not! While there are a few technical aspects that are necessary in a show about the informational technology revolution, this is a show about people—their hopes, their ambitions, as well as success and failure of people and businesses. The series is a blast from the past in terms of technology, but seeing how these fictional characters helped create the computers that we tend to take for granted is both entertaining and compelling.

If you didn’t watch Halt and Catch Fire the first time, catch it on Netflix before it goes away!