The Senator by Ken Fite— quick review and commentary

VFR

No kickstart on this VFR

The Senator: A Blake Jordan Thriller is the beginning of a series, which now has two other entries, and it can be read as a stand-alone, but it does a good job of introducing the federal agent, Blake Jordan, character.

This contemporary novel begins as Senator James Keller is set to receive his party’s nomination for President of the United States, but he doesn’t make his acceptance speech because a kidnapper manages to abduct him right before he enters the arena where his party awaits him. His protection detail is headed by ex-Navy SEAL and federal agent Blake Jordan. The action moves quickly between the senator and the agent, who wants to find Keller before something worse happens, and the suspense never lets up. (I like that!)

I noted that some reviewers on Amazon mentioned that the novel wasn’t entirely realistic. I agree, and here is an example: A character, wanting to be stealthy, walks his sport bike (a Honda VFR) out of an alley onto a main road and then the rider kickstarts it before roaring away. Okay, an experienced and strong rider might have no issues with walking a full sized bike for a ways, but it is a chore. Worse, I’m pretty sure Honda hasn’t put a kickstart on a full sized sport bike in about 30 years, and I have never seen a VFR with one. I didn’t stop reading at that point, but I did have a moment of doubt. The old saying is “write what you know” so I began wondering what else the author didn’t know, or failed to research, which was a distraction for me. However, the novel is quite suspenseful, and many readers would not be bothered by this minor glitch in regards to motorcycle matters.

Ken Fite is a new author for me, and while he did stretch my “willing disbelief” a time or two, I would not be averse to reading more of his fiction. The Senator is available for the Kindle, and as of this post, is $2.99, which is a bargain, for sure.

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The Heart of a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune

The Heart of A Dog by Albert Payson TerhuneWhen I was a kid, I read The Heart of a Dog, a collection of short stories by Albert Payson Terhune, over and over. The collection of seven stories is good for adults more so than children. One of the things I did when I first began teaching was to read to my middle school students, and I did read a story, The Meanest Man, from this book to them. Although it was first published in the 1920s, these stories are still very interesting.

All of the stories feature a different member The Sunnybank Collies, and the stories have various themes. One tale of survival, “One Minute Longer,” has a plot wherein a young man gets trapped in some icy water and his life depends on the efforts of his collie friend, Wolf, managing to this convey the situation to the adults back home. This story holds up quite well for modern readers, and it has been used in reading anthologies in the past, but the references to hunting and guns wouldn’t make it past modern censorship. In “Youth Will Be Served” the reader follows the difficult decision of dog show judge Angus McGilead, who wants to award the best in show prize to the old favorite collie, Bruce, but realizes that the young collie Jock, sired by Bruce, should win. Yet, the decision is his, and his alone. Okay, this sounds so boring, but it isn’t because the author does a great job of describing every aspect of the dog show, along with criteria used by dog show judges to pick the best of the best.

“The Meanest Man” is my favorite story. It is about a farmer, Link Harris, a well-trained collie, Chum, and the dog catcher, Eben Shunk. Even those who haven’t read it will know who the meanest man is, but the way that Link and Chum deal with him make this story very amusing, if rather dated. Anyway, my students liked it quite a lot, and according to my notes (still in the book) it takes 45 minutes to read aloud.

I’ve linked to the Kindle edition of this book, because it is a very good deal. The copy of The Heart of a Dog  that I have looks like the one pictured, because it was issued by a children’s book club. If you are ever antiquing and see one of these editions, grab it, because the illustrations are cool, too.

Stranger in a Strange Land— another item from my “Keeper” shelf

Stranger CoverAs a youngster, I loved science fiction. From being a little kid watching Fireball XL5: The Complete Series on television to reading the novels of Robert Heinlein while in school, to seeing the original Star Wars: A New Hope at the cinema while in college (gosh, I’m old, right?) I really loved sci-fi. Actually, I still do, but this is a blast from the past post, so here goes.

Heinlein, now considered one of the “grand masters” of classic science fiction, wrote young adult novels and short stories for a number of years. However, his groundbreaking and movie inspiring Starship Troopers is considered a turning point into adult fiction because this novel begins his exploration of themes that appeal to a more mature audience, including libertarian politics. Perhaps modern readers wouldn’t realize it, but the powered body armor in Starship Troopers was one of those prescient inventions that makes reading and watching science fiction so important to the development of technology.

Stranger in a Strange Land (Remembering Tomorrow)was published a couple of years after Troopers, and while less “realistic” the novel takes some giant leaps into thematic explorations. The novel deals with the life of one Valentine Michael Smith, the first human born on Mars, and because he was orphaned he was reared by the natives of that planet, and later brought back to earth as a young adult human who knows absolutely nothing about his home planet or its inhabitants, hence the title. This situation is a fabulous set up for what science fiction does best: explore what makes humanity work (or not.) I used to read this novel annually, and I have never tired of it, because there are so many themes. Indeed, while doing a master’s degree in English, I wrote a pretty decent term paper on the topic of how Heinlein uses the world savior theme in the novel, and didn’t get thrown out of my fairly conservative program.

The characters in Stranger are often larger than life, but Jubal Harshaw, lawyer, doctor, and homespun philosopher (as well as the voice of the author) is my favorite. His employees and associates included Anne, a “fair witness” which is sort of a human version of a body cam, as she only reports what is seen. As in many Heinlein works, there are any number of gems, but even people who haven’t read Stranger may use the invented word “grok” which is a Martian term for being one with someone or something, in such a way that it is fully understood or appreciated.

Modern science fiction has split into many sub-genres, but Stranger in a Strange Land pre-dates that, and in a good way. Grand Master Robert Heinlein was not restricted to hard science or the softer “social” aspects of the genre, although he uses both hard and softer themes to challenge societal norms. Indeed, this novel broke new ground when first published, and it is just as thoughtful and thought provoking today. Certainly, it deserves a read, but it is so complex that it almost needs a Cliff Notes commentary but not quite yet. Despite its age, it is still in print, so go get a copy!

From my Keeper Shelf — The Impossible Virgin


When I was young (alas, quite a long time ago) my mom would take us to the library every two weeks. There is no way I can express how important this was in my journey toward being a teacher and a writer. We didn’t have much money, but we had a wealth of information at hand, in the form of borrowed books. As I made the transition from young adult fiction to things written for an adult audience, mom was a valuable guide, because she was quite a good reader herself. One day, she handed me a book with a title that was a bit unusual: The Impossible Virgin. I’m sure I said something like, “Really, Mom?” She assured me that she had read it and that I would like it. OMG, was she right. I really loved that book.

Peter O’Donnell wrote an entire series of books featuring a better than James Bond heroine, Modesty Blaise, and The Impossible Virgin was my introduction to the series, although it is actually book five of thirteen books. The books generally followed a pattern, a bit like a James Bond movie of that era, wherein there is some action sequence at the beginning, then some exposition to get the reader up to speed on the characters, plus plenty of mid-level action before a dramatic series of events that leads to a climax with a very short denoument. Each book is decorated with highly eccentric characters, both the villains and the “guests” that Modesty and her friend Willie Garvin are helping with whatever dastardly doings drive the action.

(Some spoilers follow at this point.)

The Impossible Virgin centers around Modesty’s guy friend, a doctor named Giles Pennyfeather. He gets involved with some bad guys over in Africa, and Modesty helps him out. Later, Giles and Modesty are abducted by the baddies, and friend Willie is thrown out of a plane without a parachute. Giles ends up injured by a gorilla, so he has to walk Modesty through performing an emergency appendectomy  on one of the minor characters, and all that happens before the big climax, which involves a battle with quarterstaffs and a heck of a lot of wasps.

Most of the books in this series are really good, and I have all of them. Some books spend very little time with me, as they are forgettable, but The Impossible Virgin, along with others in the series, including Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, and I Lucifer are on my keeper shelf, and I have re-read them from time to time.

Modesty Blaise was the subject of a truly horrible movie, so bad that I try to forget that it was ever made, and a really good short film still available on DVD by Quentin Tarrantino, entitled My Name Is Modesty.

Mr. O’Donnell also wrote some nifty “romantic suspense” novels as Madeline Brent, and those are memorable as well.

Half Way Home— by Hugh Howey


This is apparently one of this author’s early works. I really enjoyed Howey’s Beacon 23, so I went back to the well looking for another space based novel and chose this one. The premise is really good and the resulting novel is entertaining, but a bit troubling, too.

Our protagonist, Porter, is part of a 500 person colonizing venture, wherein the genetically engineered people are to land on a promising planet, having absorbed all sorts of knowledge relating to some colonial speciality while in a gestation tank. When he awakens, Porter quickly learns that he and his fellow travelers awakened far too soon, on a hostile planet, and the mother ship tried to self-destruct, thus killing off 450 or so of the original colonists. Porter isn’t programed for leadership, indeed, he’s not fully educated because of the early awakening. As the action of the story moves forward, he is ultimately thrust into that role, by circumstance as well as a plot-line that seems to owe a bit to “Lord of the Flies.”

At times, this book is really fabulous, especially the survival struggles of the characters and the world building that the author does as he sets his stage and moves his players through the plot. There is quite a bit of bloodshed, as would be the case when some largely untrained humans try to survive on a hostile planet. Unfortunately, at times he goes off on odd tangents that don’t further the plot at all.

That said, this work is a worthy read, and I am glad I got a chance to go along for the ride. Half Way Home is an interesting, if not perfect, science fiction yarn. I read it via Amazon’s Kindle program for free, but there is a paperback available as well.

Adding to the List

That’s the “to be read”list, of course. As I’ve been going through this blog and updating some links, killing off a few out of date posts, and generally trying to do some cyber housekeeping, I’ve run across some sequels that I want to read.

First up, Evergreen, which had some rights to the story of Honor Harrington, David Weber’s amazing space opera, has closed up shop, but there is a second comic book version of the story available. Here’s the cover (and a link to buy if you are so inclined.) While I’m not much of a graphic novel fan, I love Honor Harrington stories, especially those toward the beginning of the saga, which these comics depict.


 

And, the also amazing, but not so famous, Kennedy Hudner has added to his space opera, as Alarm of War is up to Volume III, entitled Desperate Measures. I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series, so I am looking forward to this one. Again, here’s some cover art with a link.


And, if you are like me and you read a lot of digital books and haven’t checked into Amazon’s Kindle programs, do take a look at this:

Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

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.


I 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.



Unfortunately, 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 interesting observations and a very healthy dose of 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.

(I do think this is one of the most important books I’ve read recently, and I really encourage readers to click on the image to buy it.)


I 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, and I hope to read others in the series.


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 The Hunger Games (Hunger Games Trilogy, Book 1) 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.


I’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.


My app of choice for reading ebooks is Kindle. If you like that, too, perhaps you should consider this:

 Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

Honour Bound— a quick review


Some time back, I got a bit more serious about writing reviews on Amazon, and I bought several products and did indeed review most of them. Along with light bulbs, measuring cups, and a backpack, I stocked up on Kindle books, too.

One of those is Honour Bound (Lawmen of the Republic Book 2) by M.A. Grant. Y’all, this is a pretty nifty book. Briefly, this story begins with two people, Natalia, a prisoner in a camp on a distant planet, and Alex Cade, the young Lawman lieutenant, who rescues her. The story takes its time unfolding, so I would not term it high suspense, but it held my attention. And, it is a full length novel. I’ve noticed that the definition of novel does differ from author to author these days, with lots of eBooks being closer to novellas than actual novels. All those electronic pages mean that this is a good deal at the current price of $2.72. Apparently, Ms. Grant has other novels available with more in the works. Here’s my quick review for Amazon:

This novel delivers plenty of action in a science fiction setting. I’m a fan of sci fi romance, and while there is a romantic sub-plot, this is primarily a military story. The main characters are well drawn, but the minor ones are…well…minor. Still, I really enjoyed this book and will read others by the author.

And, here’s a link to her site: M.A. Grant Author if you’d like to know more.

Butterfly Garden— a review

Trust me, this book will get under your skin and into your memory. I’ve read a lot of books, but this one is haunting.

One of my favorite genres of fiction is what is sometimes termed psychological fiction because the author gets into the minds of the characters. Perhaps it is due to my life experiences, or maybe it is due to my eclectic reading, but I am fascinated by the caretaker/villian. One my first exposures to this genre was the film “The Collector” based on the novel by John Fowles. Later, I read the book, which was also fascinating, but perhaps even more disturbing than the movie, which nicely bridges the gap between suspense and horror.

I think that Dot Hutchinson may have read the same book. That is not to say that her novel, The Butterfly Garden, is a rip-off of The Collector; it is not. However, there are some common aspects, so I will say that my guess is that she was inspired by the Fowles novel. Both novels deal with a warped collector, interested in butterflies, and his hapless series of victims. But, the villain in The Collector had one victim (at a time); in Hutchinson’s novel, the Gardener has a much bigger operation. Hutchinson basically took the plot, then raised the stakes. Her villain is far more villainous, so be forewarned that this novel is really disturbing. There is some bad language, as well as non-graphic rape and other unpleasantness directed toward the female victims.

The Butterfly Garden is modern in tone, pace, and language. But it is more of a “why” novel than a “what novel” as it begins at the end, and the plot unfolds as detectives try to unravel the story of the interactions between our victim (who has 3 names before it is over, so I won’t name her here) and an individual that the main character knows as the Gardener. Our protagonist is more victim than heroine, but she is certainly brave in a multi-layered manner. The novel is well-written and sufficiently suspenseful for me to have read it in a couple of evenings.

There are few parallels between The Butterfly Garden and my own psychological novel, The Gift Horse. However, an exploration of the role of the victim is common to both. If any of you readers enjoyed The Gift Horse, and were not overly offended, then you should try The Butterfly Garden. I really, really enjoyed it. But, I am not am not outraged by villains doing really bad things. That is what makes such characters villains.

Alarm of War— The Other Side of Fear

A 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!