Tuesday, August 15, 2017

There Must Be Fifty Ways to Kill Your Planet

If you just want the abbreviated Amazon review, click here

However, if you don't read the rest of the blog post, you'll miss the song.
If you were looking for a post on our experience at the Steppenwolf concert, I haven't finished processing that one yet. It will come, I feel certain. Be patient. Or something.
For a guy who reads as much as I do, I often astound myself with my profound ignorance of certain aspects of modern culture. I haven't watched television in years, ditto with following sports teams. I don't listen to popular music, which I sometimes regret, as it means that I miss the nuances when Post-Modern Jukebox brings out a new song.

And, I haven't purchased a comic book since around 1964.

I do know that there were some plots developed, and I saw the original Superman and Spiderman and Batman movies, as well as a very few of slightly more recent films. I am utterly without a clue as to current plots, and I just don't want to watch any more Batman vs Superman, or Captain America vs Iron Man, or any of the other stuff. It's a deliberate choice; no one is advising me to do this.


When I started to read "Time Loop," by Pam Uphoff, I was at first convinced that I had missed a delightful adventure series, which was being re-invented on my Kindle app. I even Googled the name of the main character (Dr. Sturm/Storm), only to find there wasn't much of a match-up with any of the characters in an existing story arc. Hating to show my ignorance, I even contacted the author, and asked if this was, in fact, a re-telling of a comic book series.

It isn't!

She just made it up, which makes it all that much better. Perhaps someone will read the book and make a series of graphic novels and movies and action figures; they certainly lend themselves to such treatment.

"No," she said, "these are really mine. I had fun coming up with different ways to destroy the Earth."

I suggested that I was tempted to do a riff on "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover;" her response was to point out that it wouldn't scan.

Challenge accepted.

"The problem is making it all scan," she said to me
"It's to hard to make a rhyme for killing off humanity."
"I accept the challenge," I responded to her with glee,
"There must be fifty ways to kill your planet."

You just SMOD attack, Jack 
Make the sun go crazy, Maizie
Just uplift a cat, Matt
And set off a spree.

Use a great big laser, Frazier
Just drop a big KEW, Lou,
Kill 'em off with a virus, Cyrus
And let grey goo free.

Now, Rhymin' Simon does it much better than that, but I'm taller.  And I believe it just might put a smile on the face of one or two of you who share a love of good music and good books.

Here's the balance of the review, and this is the part already int eh Amazon reviews:

I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

Papa Pat Rambles contains additional material, including the lyrics to the song. At least, part of it.
Despite the plot and the super-hero names, "Time Loop" has nothing to do with a comic book series.
Semi-Mad Scientist Dr. Sturm shows up in a time machine, nestled into the airframe of a space shuttle, and attempts to stop the Earth from being destroyed. However, no matter how many times he kills off the people who appear to have the most to do with the destruction, when the clock rolls around to 2200 AD, everybody dies.

More or less by accident, he accumulates a crew. They replace the originals, who were also Semi-Mad Scientists who started the program of destruction deferral with him.

Interesting concept: Since the purpose of the travel is to have an effect on Earth, It is convenient to have the Earth be in roughly the same place, every time the ship makes a jump. This means it's a lot easier, and presumably more energy efficient, to catch up with the Earth at the same point in its' orbit around the sun. (The movement of the sun through the galaxy and the galaxy through the universe are mentioned as well, but they aren't really plot points.) That means that it's relatively easy to go from January 1, 2010, to January 1, 1950, for example, but not so easy to go from January 1 to July 1. 

Different positions in the orbit, right?

Here's how to deal with the Grandfather Paradox: HA HA HA HA HA! NOT TELLING!

Get this one, you won't regret it! 

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You

To skip directly to the Amazon review, click here. If you find the review 'Helpful' you can click the appropriate button. It won't cost you a cent.

There is something strangely satisfying about listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, BB King, and other guitar greats tear it up while reading the Bible and reviewing science fiction. I would encourage anyone to try it at least once.

The Bible part is the opening chapter of the book of Job. In case you aren't familiar with the story, it starts with a description of one of the ancients, who was a really good guy and happened to be rich. He was rich in sheep, oxen, camels, and donkeys, as well as servants to take care of them, and he had a large and loving family as well. Being rich didn't mess with his personality, though, and that's important. Please be clear on this: he didn't do anything wrong to deserve what was about to happen to him.

You know how in all the stories, things happen in threes? Well, this one doesn't follow the pattern; it's really a 'four plus two.'  I don't know any other stories that use this format, which suggests to me that I had better pay attention, because that alone makes this story special.

Here are the four: One after another, four servants arrive and tell him everything he has is gone. The first servant arrives to tell him raiders took his oxen and donkeys; the second tells him fire from heaven wiped out his sheep; the third tells him a different group of raiders stole his camels; the last of the four tells him all of his children are dead. Each one ends his report with: "and I alone escaped to tell you."

There's more to come, by the way; it's four plus two. Job gets sick, and his wife repudiates him; those are the two.

Warning: I am about to distort the meaning of the message radically.

Today, and every day, I have alone escaped to tell you. What does that mean?

Well, first of all, it means that despite all of the company I've had along my journey, I'm the only one who is left to tell you. Some have passed, others have moved, some are still in my life but at a greater distance. In any event, if you want to hear my message, I'm the only one who can tell it.

Second (and this is the tricky part), I'm the one who determines what the message is. Yeah, that's different.

See, the servants in Job's story were just reporting what had happened. They weren't providing any interpretation at all. But that really isn't a story, is it? Any more than the lyrics by themselves are a song. The interpretation of events: that's what matters. And I'm the only one who can create the meaning for my story.

So, think about that. You are the only one who can tell your story; you are the only one who can decide what your story means.

At least, that's the insight I have at this particular moment.

Now, as far as I can tell, NONE of this has anything to do with David Burkhead's story. A Google search for 'Live to Tell" results in a bunch of hits for a Madonna song; while I greatly appreciate Burkhead's work, I don't love it so much that I'm going to listen to Madonna to see if that is his inspiration. I sincerely hope not; he strikes me as the sort of gent who has better musical taste, but we've never had the occasion to raise the topic.

His story (the short story, not his life story) concerns a certain Sergeant Yamada, who is a solidly messed up individual, due to having been a prisoner of war of an alien species.

They are not nice people.

In fact, they use prisoners as game animals, and hunt them with primitive weapons.

And now, their warship has overtaken the hospital ship that is evacuating Yamada and other wounded back to safety. It's a sure bet that they are going to take everyone aboard as a prisoner.

This isn't so much a story of vengeance as a blurry path of redemption. Yamada is still having active flashbacks at the beginning of the story, due to his experiences, and it's a combination of his training and determination, plus the requisite opportunity, that allow him to leave the protective & reactive mode.

It's a good read, and it's well worth your time. The writing is tight, the characters are real, and the monsters are appropriately monstrous. Plenty of action, and there is enough narrative that we have no problem understanding what is going on inside Yamada's head.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Peace be on your house.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Golden Horde, by Chris Kennedy

If you just want the condensed review on Amazon, click here

As a matter of fact, click there anyway, and mark my review 'Helpful' (if you find it so). I'm working on three fronts now: this blog, Amazon reviews, and Goodreads reviews. The only one that matters for the authors (except in terms of exposure) is the Amazon review, and for reasons I can't go into right now, but have explained elsewhere, 'Helpful' clicks have the best potential for translating into money for the people doing the creative work.

It's been a month since the worlds of the Four Horsemen exploded into my reading sphere. It was the launch of  "A Fistful of Credits" at LibertyCon (which I was able to not attend, for the nth year in a row) that got my attention, and I reviewed it here on July 7.

And I was in love.

I should say, rather, that the love I already had, for military sci-fi, had found an additional object of affection. I had some prior reviewing commitments, but I immediately added "The Revelations Cycle" (for such is the name of the Horsemen series) to the queue. It SEEMS as though I've been entirely immersed in Horse product ever since, but actually, Dear Readers, that has not been the case. I just went back and counted, and discovered that since that review of FOC, I reviewed nine works by seven different authors. They were GOOD books too, although perhaps not in the transcendent sense that Theresa is a GOOD girl.

However, it's extremely rare for me to review multiple works out of the same series in a short period of time.
I can only think of one other time I've done that, and that was when I read David Pascoe's Volumes 2 - 6 of "Tales of the Unquiet Gods" from July 2 - July 4, 2015, but those were short stories/ chapters issued later as a single book. It's well worth your time, by the way.

The reason is that there are a LOT of great authors out there, writing a LOT of great books, and it's aggravating to me that they get lost in the crowd. So, I rarely review more than two in a row from the same series or author. Except with this series: With this review, I will have done seven works in the past month. Five are novels, reviewed here and on Amazon and Goodreads; the other two are short stories, which I have submitted to Tightbeam, the National Fantasy Fan Federation ezine.

It's been GREAT! And I'm given to understand that more is on the way.

The "Golden Horde" features another great mecha battle scene (taken from the book, by the way) by Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan. I was not familiar with their work prior to starting the series, but the art and lettering has been great, and the consistent approach means you can recognize a book from the series without question.

The basic storyline is that the aliens landed on Earth, once Voyager 1 left the solar system, since that qualified us as an interstellar species. They had huge technological advances to sell us; unfortunately, apart from some raw materials, we had nothing they were interested in. However, through an unfortunate series of events, they discovered we could fight, and that turned out to be a rare trait in the Galactic Union.

The fix was in at the start, though. In addition to dumping their rubbish on Earth buyers, the initiation into the Mercenary Guild turned out to be particularly brutal. Of the 100 mercenary and military groups who went out first (known as the Alpha Contracts), only four came back. Each one of these happened to feature the image of a horse on their battle regalia, so they collectively became known as the Four Horsemen: Cartwright's Cavaliers, Asbaran Solutions, the Winged Hussars, and the Golden Horde.

Recently, each one has faced some pretty tough luck. But, as the saying goes: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time is enemy action. Since the Golden Horde is the FOURTH occurrence, there can be no doubt about the malevolence.

All of the Four Horsemen have some unusual ways of accomplishing missions, but the Golden Horde is just downright...weird. Their tradition demands that they be lead by a matriarch, who receives a vision on her deathbed, which she passes on to her successor. These visions are treated with utmost sincerity by the leadership, and their fervor communicates itself to the cadre and the troops.

The transmission of believe is facilitated by two things: the troops are recruited from orphanages, so the Horde becomes their new family, even giving them new names; and each troop is given cybernetic upgrades, so they can link with each other and their equipment through electronic telepathy.

The close-knit nature of internal relationships is contrasted with the distance the Horde keeps from everyone else. Although they will ally with other mercenary groups, they take special care to make sure they have complete control over all modifications of their equipment. They employ the best hackers in the universe to refine and protect their operating systems, and that's been working well for them.

Until they get struck with their own version of the Summerkorn Blues. He has been trained in logistics, and initially just got off track because he couldn't see the forest for the trees; he's dither on submitting the moist precise report possible, until it was too late for it to make a difference. Cashiered from each of the other Horsemen, he is, somewhat inexplicably, hired to fill a critical spot in the Horde's supply team. And here, his desire to make up for his previous errors results in the greatest threat to the human race being unleashed.

Those spunky Earthmen: will they manage to muddle through? Tune in next week!

Actually, it seems as if I heard somewhere that there IS something coming out on August 10, but don't quote me on that. However, DO quote me on this: it's a most excellent series, a most excellent book, and it has some of the most interesting characters and monsters I've seen all week.

Final note: thank you, to all who sent well-wishes to us for our anniversary. It blessed our hearts.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

I will NOT share space with Four Horsemen today!

Today is the sixth anniversary of the day that Vanessa and I were united in Holy Matrimony.

We eloped. 

The email I sent out to close friends and family said:
Unless you are very prompt about checking your email, by the time you read this, we will be married. It's scheduled as a stealth event (no invites, etc) just after the 5:00 PM service at Liberty Church.
Vanessa and Pat 
The reason for the elopement?

Except for our church family, and one or two of our bio-family, we were catching great big gobs of resistance, and some astounding roadblocks. I think most of it was well-intentioned; people didn't want us to 'rush into things.' They didn't want us to have to face the rigors of living as a mixed race couple in the south. There were some SERIOUS questions about my health, and my ability to provide proper parenting to Kenneth and Alicia, who, at ages 6 & 5, were starting first grade and kindergarten. Yeah, got that; we had spent a LOT of time working on those issues, and if we didn't have answers at that point, we at least understood that we were going to have to come up with them in the course of things.

Some of the objections weren't well-intentioned at all, and those we just disregarded. With regret, often, because they came from people we loved, but we were mature adults (58 & 51), and we realized the futility of trying to please people who weren't interested in being pleased except on their own terms.

Wanna know a secret?

I've saved every bit of correspondence Vanessa and I have ever had with each other, from the very first contact on Christian Mingle, the internet dating site where we met. For an anniversary present (first? second? we don't recall) I printed it all out, and gave it to her, sorted and boxed up.

And, in the process of looking for a wedding picture to include, I happened to read some of the last exchanges before the wedding.

I had forgotten the rather frantic negotiations that took place in the days immediately preceding the wedding. I had forgotten just how desolate I was, BECAUSE we had actually scheduled the wedding for July 9, we had some almost unbelievable family/friend induced drama in the two weeks leading up to the wedding, and I finally called it off with just days to go.

It kicked the guts right out of both of us.

From the beginning of our courtship, we had been seeking (and receiving) counsel. We studied books together, listened to teaching tapes, and followed carefully the program of study prescribed to us by our pastor. So, when the wheels came off, we didn't have to work hard to find help & bring them up to speed. Even so, it was crushing to both of us.

I felt like I was going to die, but was afraid I wasn't.

We took a break from each other, and continued to work with our pastor (and our APPROPRIATE friends), for a month.

I've looked at some of our writings from that period, and it would just break your heart, IF you didn't know that the story has a happy ending.

The ONLY good part about it is that it makes me truly grateful for today. Because  we DID resolve those catastrophic issues, and we DID agree to continue to work with each other, and with informed counsel when needed, it's amazing how far we have come together.

I remember that guy, I remember his pain, and the thing that touches me the most is how little hope he had for the future. Can't blame him, really; this is a guy who lost his health, his career, and then his family, all in the space of a few weeks. He sat in a chair for three years, and about all he could do was breathe in, and breathe out. And, when he had the energy, when he breathed out, he said the prayer: "Jesus, save."

That's all he could do.

So, he was used to failure; he was used to enduring. He wasn't used to joy. So, when the light dawned, in the person of this wonderful, radiant, godly woman, it was a new experience. And when it collapsed, he returned to his chair.

"Jesus, save." Because he had no hope now, and not much experience of hope from the past to draw on.

Here's the deal: Sometimes we change because we feel the heat, not because we see the light. So, the last thing that guy wrote, six years ago, was this: "I can't stand the thought of living in the dark any more."

And he went on, and got stronger, and he became me. I walk without a cane, today, and I've lost 40 pounds of belly fat, and I exercise regularly, and I make it to church on time, every week.

And now you know why I refer to Vanessa as

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The LawDog Files, by D. LawDog (& Keyboard Blues)

To read the somewhat condensed Amazon review, click here.

How far do you go before you replace your keyboard? I've had this one, a Logitech Wireless K520, for quite some time. The letters are starting to wear off. The letter 'A' is just a blank key, and others are not far behind. One of the keys on the number pad is completely gone; the thing just popped off one time when I knocked the keyboard off the desk. It didn't really bother me, since I didn't ever use that key. I'm not even sure what it is. It's between the '/' key and the '-' key. Probably the '*', which I rarely use, and when I do, I just use 'Shift8.'

But recently, I've been having other problems. It's a wireless, and I thought it might be the batteries, but they check out fine, and a replacement didn't make any changes. It's likely cat hair, since SugarBelly refuses to modify her behavior of sleeping on me, regardless of whatever else I have in my lap at the time. Twice recently, I've had bizarre events happen; the most recent was an attack of the letter 'k,' all across the screen. Fortunately, I noticed it right away, and it responded to a sound trouncing. But, I fear, It's time to go after another keyboard. I think I'll get this one:

It allegedly will work with the same dongle my trackball uses.

I am almost positive that my first contact with the LawDog came from Peter Grant's blog, the Bayou Renaissance Man.

I am similarly under the strong impression that said introduction came in form of a squee.

And thus, I have a bit of cognitive dissonance I must overcome, because to the best of my knowledge, Peter Grant has never been known to squee.

Maybe it was in the comments section. Maybe it was a guest post. Maybe it was Dorothy.

Maybe I'm mistaken.

But I don't think so.

At any rate, the squee was to the effect that the LawDog had agreed to write a book, or was going to re-activate his blog, or was within driving distance, or was going to be at a convention, or some combination of all the above. At any rate, the news prompted a squee. Who it was who squeed, doesn't really matter anymore, because I arrived at SqueeSource.

If not quite of the same status as an imprimatur, a Foreword written by Larry Corriea has at least symbolic value to the hordes who shamble after him, holding out cash and begging for something else to read. In this case, though, it serves to tie in the current work with an experience that many of us (at least those of a certain level of maturity of years) have shared: finding a bright ray of light in the early days of what has become the Internet. Long before pictures of cats were available, text-based bulletin boards gradually evolved into text based fora, where grim knowledge was exchanged, along with the occasional insult. LawDog injected some humor into the wasteland, and thus won a following. (Note: I am a member of that same forum, dating from about 10 years after LawDog started posting. Sigh. Had I only started earlier, who knows? Perhaps I would now own a mountain.)

The stories are a selection of the material LawDog has posted over the last 20 years. Prior to each story, he provides some of the background material that lead up to the post. For those of us who LOVE back story, this is exactly the sort of icing on the cake that makes us feel like we are part of the inner circle.

The very first story he posted, sometime in the late 1990s, had a drunken, lovestruck armadillo as a main character. What makes the story stand out, however, is not the armadillo, but LawDog's ability with language to poke fun at himself. He describes hanging upside down in a thorny hedge, while fellow LEOs and other emergency service people are standing around, helpless with laughter, in such a way that we are brought into the event. With talent like this, and material to work with with, failure to amuse was NOT an option.

LawDog kills Santa Claus. He falls on the ice, and uses that as a tool to catch a miscreant. He introduces us to characters we NEVER hope to meet in person, including various members of Big Mama's family.  He also gives us insight into the times when the solution to a crime problem DOESN'T involve an arrest, and the times when sitting in silence is the very best choice that can be made.

It's the latter, I believe, that keep the LawDog from that edge of cynicism about the human condition that grinds so many cops into the ground. If you want a beautiful picture of human compassion, then read "Going Home," a story about his search for an elderly man missing from a nursing home.

He gives us delicate and tasteful advice: "If you’re going to Say It With Saliva in Texas, make sure your boyfriend can take a whuppin’."

He describes the brilliance and utter stupidity of inmates, who publish their crimes  on social media, and who are able to recognize legitimacy of reports based on they type of language and ink used.

And, of course, the should-be-deservedly-so famous story of the Pink Gorilla Suit. It's so famous, it's INFAMOUS. Like El Guapo.

Be sure of this: unless you are ill, incarcerated, or have very little sense of humor (poor soul), you will find something to love in the LawDog Files.

And on August 10, the LawDog's African stories will be available on Amazon. You can pre-order it here:

Peace be on your house.

Friday, August 4, 2017

When Good Authors Get Bad Reviews: Cedar Sanderson's "Snow In Her Eyes"

If you want to read the concise Amazon review, and avoid the chest-beating, click here.

In the 1994 movie "Leon: The Professional," one of hitman's rules is : No women, no kids.

Now, one day I was thinking: 'Hey, maybe it would be nice if I had some ethics or something.' I really didn't want to take a class, or have to read some philosophy book, or anything like that, BUT it just so happens that I HAD seen that movie.

'Wow,' I thought, 'this is going to be EASY! Leon's already done the heavy lifting for me. I'll just use his approach.'

And that's what I did.

Actually, I have adopted it not so much as my ethics (or whatever), but as a sort-of guide to which books to read or movies to watch. It chops some of my options pretty severely from time to time; a couple of months ago, I was looking for an action flick, and the description of about six of them in a row were 'Bubba was finished being a cop/criminal/international spy until they murdered/raped/kidnapped his wife/kid/family. Now he's after revenge.'

So, that night, I read a book instead.

Actually, there are  few other things I don't do.

One of them is horror, particularly slasher stuff. That's not ethical, it's good old fashioned scaredy pants fraidy cat stuff. I don't like being scared, I don't like having things jump out at me, and so there are huge areas of modern culture that I have missed on purpose.

I also don't care for porn, and that extends to sexually explicit scenes in otherwise good books. I skip over those parts, and enjoy the rest of the story. My reason for that is a bit more personal; I prefer my physical intimacy to be participatory, and I ALSO prefer the images in my head not to be of some actress who doesn't know or care that I exist. Yes, I am aware that there are a lot of beautiful women in the world. Only one of them is mine, and that is more than sufficient, thank you very much. I've got the best one, anyway.

My standard approach to books that deal with the above areas is to ignore them. I only work for myself; there is no one who tells me I have to review certain books. I only read what I want to read; that's why, if you look at my reviews, you will find that the vast majority award 4 or 5 stars. I have been chastised for this in the past; some people have accused me of pandering to authors, others have told me I was an easy grader.

Well, bite me.

When I select the food I'm going to eat for lunch, I'm going to get what I want. I do the same thing with the books I read. If you read my reviews, I think you'll agree that they aren't the review equivalent of elevator music: "Good read. Loved it. Can't wait for sequel." Nope, that's not the kind of review I write. I pick something I think I will like, and then I try to get everything out of it that the author put in. Every once in a while, I'll get something out that the author didn't intend, but it's usually in one of my areas of prior ignorance. For example, I reviewed a book some months ago in which the protagonist was asexual. I know NOTHING of that, and so I assumed that a particular act of physical intimacy was highly aversive to her. The author kindly informed me that wasn't the case, merely slightly uncomfortable; my interpretation made it a better story, though. (I think.)

If that is the case, why am I reviewing a book that I gave one star?

Part of is is because of the limitations of the Amazon rating system. If you look at what the ratings mean:
1 star: I hated it.
2 stars: I didn't like it.
3 stars: It was okay. (Amazon says this is a negative review, which makes no sense to me.)
4 stars: I liked it.
5 stars: I loved it.

You will notice that those ratings say nothing whatsoever about the artistry of the writing; the internal consistency of the story; plot development; originality; NOTHING at all about what I think really makes a book worth reading. It is an utterly subjective rating system, and I suppose the only kind that makes sense in the mass-market approach Amazon takes with the book reading public.

Now, that only explains the rating system, and not why I reviewed a book I gave 1 star to, and why I gave it one star.

1. I gave it one star, because in the first paragraph, the author kills off a baby girl. No women, no kids; one star.
2. I reviewed it because the author is Cedar Sanderson, and she is one of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people as well. I couldn't NOT review it without my favoritism toward her and her work utterly destroying any credibility I have as a reviewer.  I gave Declan Finn, another favorite, a two-star review about a month ago for the same reason, and I wouldn't be able to face him if I were to give this book a pass.

Now, here comes the review of the book; this is the only part that will appear on Amazon and on Goodreads. Those of you who read my blog, therefore, have what Paul Harvey would have referred to as the rest of the story.

I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.
The starkly beautiful cover, also by Sanderson, shows the faint outline of a beautiful, big-eyed little girl, looking out in puzzlement from a frame of evergreens in the snow, an exquisitely drawn red snowflake and red spatters providing the hint of tragedy.

The first paragraph confirms it all.

Paranormal investigator Amaya is at the site of a multiple homicide, kneeling outside beside the frozen body of a three year old girl. The image of an unfrozen snowflake resting on the little girl's open eye is written with a pain-filled brutality; this is all there is left of the little girl, her life is no more, for reasons she would have been too young to understand.

The death is obviously caused by magic, because the cold is unnatural; there is no way the body of the little girl could have been frozen solid by the moderate temperatures at that time of year.

Inside the house are three other dead bodies. Two are the result of conventional forms of homicide, a man killed by a slashing attack,  and a woman dead by a shotgun blast. A second man is frozen solid, like the little girl, still holding the shotgun that took the life of the woman.

The investigation that follows is an elegant blend of paranormal investigation, logical puzzle-solving, and old-fashioned police work.  The clues to the crime are in plain sight; this isn't one of those mysteries where you have to know the thirty-seven varieties of English cigar ash in order to solve the problem. On my second read-through, I drew out a diagram of the relationships as I met the characters, and proved to myself that, yes, this WAS a fair mystery. It's just complex.

As is the case in real life, details exist that are neither red herrings, nor are they essential elements of the crime. Mixed in with those are some factors which DO have bearing on the story, but you don't know which is which.  Amaya's office is in a broom closet, because magic gives her migraines, and she wants to throw up in private. The head of the local witches' coven is Amaya's great aunt. The police chief hasn't learned how to eliminate paper from his paperwork. Amaya's left hand is prosthetic. She likes tea, because coffee is too bitter. All of the elements combine to describe the people and the environment, BUT this isn't one of those heavy-handed stories which only mentions the tsotchkes because one of them is missing/the murder weapon/a clue to the murderer. They just go into making an elegant tale.

As does her precise beauty of word choice. In one scene, she describes the effect of a defensive spell which is keeping her and her partner from approaching a house.

I could hear that he was talking, but the words were distant, almost music if a muted trombone were playing a solo.

I read that, and I've got the Miles Davis band playing in my head immediately.

Although this is a short piece, and there are no elements left hanging, there are plenty of details which tickle. For example, the professional status Amaya has as an official paranormal investigator is bothersome to some of the other law enforcement officers. For another, how did she come by a prosthetic arm? And why was her aunt only free from jail because of Amaya's sufferance? Sanderson does these things, though. About five years ago, she wrote a short work called 'Stargazer' which  DEMANDED one or more sequels, and so far, that hasn't happened. I believe that is something we are going to have to accept about Sanderson; she is always going to leave us wanting more.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Memorials, and Winged Hussars by Mark Wandrey

If you just want to read the concise Amazon review, you can click here. 

This morning on my walk, I listened to a podcast discussing memorials, particularly statues. They started out by pondering the significance of statues, and decided that statues of living people were creepy. I'd be inclined to go along with that; I tend to associate statues of living people as being associated with repressive governments.

So, let's consider other forms of monuments. I happen to regard Mother Teresa as one of the greatest humanitarian figures of the 20th century. For years, I carried a medallion with the image of her face on it in my pocket, every day (and I'm not Catholic). She spent her life caring for the poor, and finally, got some recognition internationally. It didn't seem to change her much. I watched William F. Buckley, a devout Roman Catholic & conservative intellectual, interview her. He was hoping, I suppose, to elicit some sort of statement from her to the effect that there were economic solutions to the problems of the grinding poverty in Calcutta.

"No," she said. "It's only love."

He tried again, with a respectful restatement. She waited calmly and patiently for him to finish his question.

"No," she said. "It's only love."

She had no regard for the fact that she was being interviewed by a big shot on big shot TV. She looked as if she were waiting patiently for this to be over, so she could go back to her job of caring for children.

And on February 3, 1994, Mother Teresa was invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. Who issued the invitation? The then President of the United States, Bill Clinton. At his side was his wife, Hillary, who even then was on the record for a national healthcare plan that would include abortion services.

And what did the little nun say?
Mother Teresa had said: “Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Give me the child. I’m willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.”
It was shocking. Contemporary reports have the Clintons & others sitting in stony-faced silence while the room applauded the nun who dared.

That is NOT the end of the story.

About a year and a half later, on June 19, 1995, the Mother Teresa Home for Infant Children was opened in Washington DC. Who provided the driving force to make it happen?

Hillary Clinton. Under relentless urging via letters and phone calls from Mother Teresa, she got the appropriate people to put their names on the appropriate papers, and the home became a reality.

But THAT is also not the end of the story.

Mother Teresa died in 1997; and, in 2002, the Home for Infant Children closed. I haven't been able to get a clear picture about the circumstances, or if there was a foundation or legacy that carried on that specific work.

So: does that mean there is no memorial to Mother Teresa, more specifically, to her courageous acts in challenging the mighty at the National Prayer Breakfast?

Well, I carry the memorial around with me. And you are reading this, so maybe you will be part of the memorial. And I think that's as good as it gets. If YOU don't think so, then take your kids to some historical site, whether it has a statue/marker or not, and see if being there is meaningful to them. Where I live, we've got LOTS of Civil War battlegrounds, some marked, others not. They only mean what what each individual wants them to mean, and no amount of concrete is going to change that. 

So: make your memorial: teach a kid to read. Take somebody to a movie. Babysit. Give a neighbor a pie you baked yourself. Let someone get ahead of you in the line in rush hour traffic. 

Figure it out.

And here's the review of "Winged Hussars," by Mark Wandrey:

I usually immediately forget the names of cover artists; however, having read multiple volumes in this series over the past month, I recognize the work of Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan, and say : bravo! Even the choice of the font (looks like war metal) contributes to the picture. Author's name & book title are both easily read, and the mecha and armed furry critter are nicely framed.

When the aliens made contact, the earth was dismayed to discover that they really didn't have anything to trade in exchange for the advanced technology available through the Galactic Union. Fortunately, before we dwindled into insignificance, it was discovered that we could fight. Since this was a rare condition among the vast majority of the alien races, good mercenaries were always in demand. Details are, at this point, somewhat sketchy, but we DO know that there was skullduggery involved; of the 100 mercenary companies to head into space with a contracted mission, only four came back, Coincidentally, all four featured a horse on their unit flag, and thus began the story of the Four Horsemen.

The Winged Hussars had 'lucked' ( luck = preparation+opportunity) into an alien ship, and came home better prepared than they had been when they went out. Their missions were largely space-based, unlike the other three Horsemen, who tended to specialize in ground-based combat.

Alexis Cromwell commands the Winged Hussars, as well as their flagship, the EMS Pegasus, which is the ship recovered by the original contract team. It has unusual characteristics, which she is careful to hide from enemies. And allies. And crew. She's widely regarded as filthy rich, drop-dead gorgeous, and ruthless in business negotiations as well as in combat. Some of that is due to her secret weapon.
Rick Culper is a gentle giant. I KNOW THIS GUY, because I have a son just like him. He rarely has to resort to violence being somewhat physically overpowering. As a young boy, he befriended a pudgy klutz, just out of a desire to see fair treatment and stop a bully form getting his way; when he discovered this was the designated heir of the senior of the Four Horsemen, he figured he had found his place in life. He would become a mercenary, go to work for his buddy, go to exotic places, meet interesting beings, kill them, and get rich. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way. The nasty plot running in the background bankrupted the Cavaliers, and Rick had to go elsewhere.

After his training, and before his first combat deployment, a bad thing happened. While hitching a ride on a freighter to a place he can get hired as a mercenary, Rick has to fight pirates, and suffers a pretty serious brain injury. Physically, he comes back, but he's lost a lot of his memory, and doesn't seem to be able to feel emotions, either. After he is patched up, mostly, he signs with the Winged Hussars, who are looking for people with his skill set. Umm..the shipboard marine skillset, not the brain-damaged skill set.

Other items of note:

1. Beside the standard, contract violence, some person or corporate entity has the agenda of destroying the Winged Hussars. This is absolutely forbidden by law and custom.

2. In Interlude sections, we get clues to what drives Captain Alexis.

3. Winged Hussars uses aliens as mercenaries in every position, including having them hold command over humans. Anyone who can't deal with that doesn't get accepted.

4. The aliens are treated as people, with complex motivations. The best example of this is the gigantic spider, Oort. Although her species is known for battle ferocity, including feeding on the bodies of the dead, Oort has had repeated near-death experiences, and it's caused her to attempt to determine The Meaning of Life. When not engaged in a duty assignment, she is reading books by some horrible 19th century German philosophers. Now, I have ATTEMPTED to read some of the works mentioned, and they are so impenetrable as to be frustrating. I think the only way to get through the works would be to have a time machine, go back to a beer hall, and demand that these people explain what they are talking about over beer and sausage. Even Soren Kierkegaard is impenetrable, even if you already know what he's going to say. Frankly, I think that class set back the study of the meaning of life by at least 200 years, by muddying the waters so badly. But, this is the sort of thing the spider reads right before going into combat.

So: great continuation of the storyline, great characters, great exploding spaceships.


Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Very UnCONventional Christmas, Stephanie Osborn

If you just want the condensed Amazon review, you can get it here.

Warning: rantish behavior follows!

Agent Echo doesn't like Christmas. I don't either.

He gives in a little, and I have as well, but when the kids are out of the house, I will NOT be doing anymore Christmas stuff. I'm delighted for you if you disagree, and I'm perfectly happy being called a grinch or scrooge.

I'm not going to divulge his reasons, because that's his story to tell. The reason I don't like it are numerous, but mostly because it has become such a hyped-up event that it can never live up to the promises of the Hallmark movies.

I don't like the Hallmark movies, either.

It gives me an opportunity to go to the Waffle House. I get to do that on Christmas and my birthday, without anybody giving me any grief about it. I go at other times as well; as often as possible, in fact. However, I look forward to Waffle House, and leaving a huge tip for the waitress, and that's about it.

In recent years, I have requested that anyone who wishes to provide me with a Christmas present should make a donation to a shelter, and I particularly like the City of Refuge in Atlanta, because they provide the total package.

Your mileage may vary.

But, here is the review of the book:

 The Division One Alpha Line is approaching Christmas, and there are some unusual circumstances.

One of the NON-unusual circumstances is the well-executed and witty cover, a comment I am inserting at this particular point because if i don't I'll forget it, and this whole word processing thing is just a fad. Why copy and paste to a better location, when it interrupts the flow of ideas? Or something. At any rate, the cover design is by one Darrell Osborn; I believe he and the author are known to take personal liberties with each other as a medium of exchange.

I hope you see what I did there, because that IS one of the unusual circumstances. Partly because Agents Echo and Omega are the top dogs in a pack of alphas, and perhaps for other reasons, there are nasty rumors floating around about the nature of their relationship. Since they both have history which prevents clear perception of relationship possibilities, they have not hurled themselves into each other's arms, and the filthy-minded simply refuse to believe that things are as they appear. She's gorgeous, they think, so he MUST be sleeping with her. And since he is sleeping with her, that MUST be the only reason she has the job.

Well, sorry to tell you nasty, nasty little creeps, but their relationship is held in check by the author.

So there.

In addition to the lies, rumors, and innuendo, Echo and Omega discover there has been a major security breach. Their first clue? Getting ambushed by children. Seems that the hottest toy this Christmas is a thinly-veiled Division One replica, with look-alike agent action figures, blasters, and so forth. And a movie is in production.

Oh, my! Who could be behind such a dastardly plan to expose the most secret of all secret agencies?

Yeah, well, the answer IS "bad guys," but I'm afraid I just can't get more specific than that.

Spoilers, ya know.

Nicely Tuckerized in the story are several figures who are Known Associates, and no damage is done to the reputation of any. Although: there is one scene in which the determination of one character to do a thorough job causes him to get repeatedly brain-bleached.

For the record, it takes place at a science fiction convention, which is the 'CON' hidden in the title. I've never attended one of those, but I have been to a large number of professional cons, and being brain-bleached is NOT, by far, the worst thing a behind-the-scenes person may expect.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reviews Is Migratory! And Middle School Chaos

For those of a certain degree of maturity, the talents of Johnny Hart in the comic "B.C." were a great source of humor. There was a running joke about nearly everything, but the one referenced is the set of clam jokes. Any time a clam manifested an unusual trait, some loud mouthed denizen would announce it to the world with great volume and pitiful grammar.

First, I think, was "CLAMS GOT LEGS!" Later, after a group of clams were discovered walking off into the distance, it was "CLAMS IS MIGRATORY!" Hence, the title of the review.

Well, I'm no Johnny Hart, and daly, I have no clams. However, I do have reviews. And, happily, it appears that I am able to copy them from Amazon to Goodreads. I did a trial run this weekend of eight reviews, and nothing blew up. However, I don't know whether the reviews exist where anyone who looks at the book can find them, or do they just show up on my profile. I also don't know how to add a title to the reviews; other reviews have them, but I haven't found the magic button.

I'll be MOSTLY making the reviews/clams migrate, although I also have a completed book to review, and another I'm reading, so I can experience some task variety.

Asd along those lines, I just went through what I believe was my 19th middle school orientation. All but the last two, admittedly, were from the other side, since I was a middle school counselor from 1991 to 2007, but it's the same chaos.

Dang it, I wish people knew how to walk in the halls, and how not to block a door.

But, I was able to buy almost all the school supplies for 6th grade Alicia and 7th grade Kenneth in one VERY quick trip to Publix and one slightly longer trip to Walmart, with no lines to stand in.

I also used the opportunity to train Kenneth in greeting adults. Firm handshake, "Hi, Mrs Cthulu, I'm Kenneth Emiohe, and I'm in your third period reading class." I finally gave up on the firm handshake; the best I could get was gelatinous. We will work on it. He's only 12, after all, and he's not used to being treated with respect.

I wonder how many of the teachers I'll be on speaking terms with in May?

Peace be on your household, especially those of you beginning the school year.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Asbaran Solutions, by Chris Kennedy, and the Border of Insanity

The condensed Amazon review may be found here, for those who wish to avoid commentary.

Said commentary, however, will of necessity be non-specific. There are too many stories which are not mine to tell, but I do want to talk about what I'm calling, for the lack of a better term, the Border of Insanity.

My undergraduate degree is psychology, and I have two graduate degrees in counselling, but when it comes to my definition of insanity, I rely on my personal experience of listening to the accumulated wisdom of recovering alcoholics over the past 29 years.  There are really two statements of the definition:

1. Doing the same thing, and expecting a different result. This is the one I hear quoted the most, even outside the meeting rooms. I heard it last from the lips of a wise non-alcoholic, while standing in his driveway yesterday. It's a great statement, with plenty of practical applications. That's probably why it has such broad distribution. However, it's the other definition I'm thinking about this morning.

2. Believing something is true, when it's not; or, believing something isn't true, when it is.

Maybe it's due to my own neuro-chemical-behavioral makeup, but I tend to see both of these statements as being primarily errors of logic, not of emotions or senses. However, rational thinking can be highly impacted by both of those, so it's not a philosophically pure process.

To illustrate, let me use the most drastic situation I had to face as a counselor: suicide.

The nutshell truth we bandied about was "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." It's so succinct that it tends to trivialize the issue. That's because, for the person contemplating suicide, the problem doesn't seem temporary at all. The overwhelming majority of the cases I had to deal with were triggered by the ending, or the anticipated ending, of a love affair. For the person involved, this did NOT seem to be a temporary problem; from their perspective, life was over, they would never be happy again, and everything was either meaningless or painful, and they saw no end to it.

They were standing at the Border of Insanity.

Now, as long as they were on the GOOD side of the border, counselling was helpful. They were being seduced by the false belief "If I die, it will solve all problems." As long as they hadn't given themselves over to that particular insanity, they were able to see the horrible impact that their death would have on other people. They could see that they had recovered from a similar situation in the past. Depending on the beliefs of the individual, there were appeals to their spiritual beliefs as well. And even if they themselves couldn't see a future, if they still had trust in others, they could rely on the fact that others believed in a future, and that could carry them through.

However, if they had crossed over the Border, and they were determined to carry out suicide,  the only fix was to have them committed to a mental health facility where they could be placed under constant observation, and provided the necessary interventions until they were stabilized. I spent the last half of my career working mostly with teens, and that population tends to act impulsively, rather than with a carefully thought-out plan, and they tend to rebound rather quickly.  

That's not the only country across the Border of Insanity, just the most lethal. I think it's far more common to encounter someone who is holding on to the idea that if they just give this failed money-making scheme a little more effort, it will work this time. Or, if they allow this abuser to come back in the home once more, this time it will be different. If they prevent this person from facing the consequences of their behavior just once more, they won't do it again.

It's easy to see the mistake, as long as you yourself aren't the one standing at the Border. But nobody ever said, "I think I'll take a stroll to the Border of Insanity today, just to take a look at the lovely scenery." They had good reasons for everything they did.

Which is why you may expect some difficulty to arise when you attempt to intervene. It is HARD for someone standing on the edge to give up their hope that it's going to be different, this time. However, with appropriate support, they may be able to accept the truth.

By the way: if you find yourself getting involved in these dramas a lot, take a look at where you are standing. It's likely you, yourself, are very close to the Border.

And that brings us to the Asbaran Solution.

So I almost forgot, I DID remember in time! Mad props to the people who did the cover, Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan. Great spooky mecha art, and a design that fits in with the rest of the series.

Nigel Shirazi has spent his recent life hating his name. He hates his first name because it has become a personal acronym for repeated failure: "Never Is Good Enough: Loser." When taunted, he lashes out, and lands in trouble, sometimes in jail, and the cycle is then repeated elsewhere.

He hates his last name because it means that he is an unwanted member of the family that owns Asbaran, one of the Four Horsemen, the mercenary companies who survived the initial rounds of contract warfare when the Earth was admitted to the Galactic Union, with nothing to offer in exchange for economy-wrecking technology except fighters.

And Nigel doesn't want to be a mercenary. Nobody else wants Nigel to be a mercenary, either. He gets paid off to be a dilettante, a remittance man, someone who will stay away and not bother the important people who are carrying on the important business.

And then a bad thing happens.

Several bad things, in fact. All of the male senior members of the Shirazi are killed, the single surviving female is captured, and some strange events in the trading of securities and equipment have resulted in the company going bankrupt.

There is no alternative but to bring Nigel the Loser out of the junkyard, and put him in charge. He immediately dashes to the Border of Insanity, a place he has lived most of his life, and resolves to use the limited resources remaining to Asbaran to complete the same mission that has crushed everyone else.

There's something bizarre going on, though. It doesn't make sense that Asbaran would have been offered the mission in the first place. It's a garrison mission; go here, take up positions, and defend it, until a specified time. That's NOT what Asbaran does; they are an assault company. Drop in, kill things, then go away to the next mission. There's something funny about this, and it isn't Monty Python.

Excellent book. Lots of exploding spaceships. Lots of room for character growth. Lots of  Red Shirts. Lots of Bad Guys getting their just desserts. Buy it!

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cartwright's Cavaliers, by Mark Wandrey

The condensed Amazon version of this review  may be found here.

I keep a list around here somewhere about things I just don't understand. The first four, of course, are found in Proverbs 30:

    19The way of an eagle in the sky,
            The way of a serpent on a rock,
            The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
            And the way of a man with a maid.

Other items include WHY my fat black Manx cat SugarBelly INSISTS on sitting on my hands when I'm trying to use the keyboard; why I am the only person in the house who can put water in the water jug and re-fill the ice cube trays; and why did I allow myself to be persuaded to buy such an expensive iPhone and  iPad when I don't want to use any of those fabulous functions.

Well, there is another thing I don't understand: 

How is it that this book came out last December without me noticing it?

I started out fishing for books to read in the Mad Genius Club a few years back. I decided I was going to review the books written by all of the authors I found there. At first, it was just my intent to include those who were writing the columns, but I quickly added those who participated in the discussions to my to-be-read-and-reviewed list. And then, at some point, I discovered Sarah's Diner. And I adopted THAT as the source of my reading list.

And, inadvertently,  I stopped making sure I was reading MGC on a regular basis. I've fixed that, now, by the way, by subscribing, but I hadn't realized just how far I had slipped until the other day when I realized there was an entire series of Alma Boykin's that had escaped me. I'm fixing that, too.

But what STARTED it all was my review of "A Fistful of Credits, " launched at LibertyCon, just one hundred miles from my non-attending location. I devoured it with a passion, gobbled two of the prequel stories available online, and demanded MORE! Which resulted in the discovery of "The Winged Hussars;" which lead me to the brutal fact that the series had started in December, and I hadn't noticed.

I have NO excuse for that.

But, I did have a remedy! I got both of the previous works, and I read THIS one pretty much simultaneously with the first Alma Boykin series book I'd missed (you understand, I must have multiple books due to existing in multiple places, right?), enjoyed it IMMENSELY, and have already begun the second book in the series. When I finish that, I will return to finish 'The Winged Hussars,' and then pound on the table for more.

And I'm going to try to get Tightbeam to accept reviews of the two prequel stories. After I write them, of course.

But, that's all background. Here's where the review starts:

Shortly before the time the story begins, the aliens landed. We discovered they had a LOT of things that they wanted, but we didn't have much to give them in return. It was a bad thing.

Then, we found out that fighting was a rare skill, and various alien groups would happily hire humans to break things and kill people. Unfortunately, most of the jobs were sucker bets, and only FOUR of the first 100 groups of human mercenaries returned. It happened that all of them featured a horse on their insignia, so the groups became known as the Four Horsemen.

The greatest of these groups was Cartwright's Cavaliers. Through luck, hard work, luck, integrity, and luck, they became a dominant force in the industry. Thaddeus Cartwright was the commander of one of the grandest enterprises in human history, until his luck ran out, leaving elementary school-aged son Jim as the heir.

For reasons not clear to me, Jim's mother set out on a course that destroyed the mercenary company. Assets were squandered, contracts entered into without regard to profitability, and by the time young Jin turned 18, his inheritance was worth less than zero. A considerate judge allowed him a trifle which would keep him from starving for a bit.

If that weren't enough, Jim was NOT qualified for the life of a mercenary. To be blunt, he was obese, and rather uncoordinated as well. He had covertly had brain implants installed, so knowledge was easier for him to acquire, but he knew that without experience, he was pretty much good at turning pizza into solid waste, and that was it.

He needed a break, and after all the bashing he took as the lawyers broke his father's company to shreds, he really deserved one, as well. When the opportunity essentially dropped out of the sky on him, he was ready.

What follkows is some great scenes of exploding spaceships against the background of character development. Maybe it's the other way around, but it doesn't matter; the elements of  smashing great adventure are all there. Detractors may whine at the failure to consider horticulture as an acceptable alternative for an obese teen, or the appalling assumption that under-utilized humans will turn to crime, or the tendency of volcanos to erupt at inconvenient moments, but these are merely the quibbles of people who haven't gotten a nice nap recently. For everyone else, this is a great place to start reading the adventures of the  Four Horsemen.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Cat Among Dragons, by Alma T C Boykin, and Series Immersion

If you JUST want to read the Amazon review, with none of the trimmings, click here.

So, this morning I hopped out of bed at 4:00 AM, and drove our daughter Liz to the hospital, where she will shortly present us with grandchild number 12; BUT this one is a girl! We only have two other girl grandchildren, the delightful Vanessa Nicole, age 16, and precious Alicia Ann, age 11. In case you don't want to do the math, that means we have 9 grandsons, ranging from Esan at 18 to Isaac at 5 months.

I like 'em all.

In fact, I like them so much that there are three of them currently living at my house (four when the little girl comes home), and in a few minutes, my daughter who lives in Screven, in south east Georgia, will be dropping by with three year old Josh and the aforementioned 5 month old Isaac, for an all-too-brief visit. I bought donuts.
Are they not lovely? Designed to appeal to the palate of grandchildren.

And I made sausage and cheese biscuits.

Designed to appeal to the palate of adults.

And then, as adults and children were negotiating conversation space while wiping powdered sugar and or mustard from the lips, I fell asleep. And then Trey fell asleep, and then my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, fell asleep. In a home which is shortly going to receive a newborn, naps are a desirable commodity.

So, when I woke up, much too early, and placed the donuts into storage, I kept it quiet. They can sleep; I have a blog/review to write.

I've mentioned before that military sci-fi has been my clear favorite, at least since I discovered a frayed copy of 'Starship Troopers' in the day room of "C" Company, 2nd Battalion, while undergoing medic training at Ft. Sam Houston in 1972 -73. And so, with delight, I discovered  that , introduced at LibertyCon (which I didn't attend), was that outstanding bit of art known as "Fistful of Credits." I reviewed it here on Amazon, and blogged about it here, taking an extended and expanded view of one of the stories here.

And after that, I immediately read and enjoyed toy stories in the universe, which provide some back story; and THEN I got word of Mark Wandrey's release of "The Winged Hussars," which I obtained and began to devour, and THAT lead me to the discovery that the series goes back at least two more books which are already in print, and new ones are on the way.

Good news, and bad news.

Good news: I have a LOT more to read & review!

Bad news: I owe reviews to other authors.

Although I usually get one book at a time from a particular author, there are those times when I'll get several books sent my way. When that is the case, I try to be fair in my rotation. I have no research data to support my actions, but I do believe that there are advantages to alternate the authors I review. And maybe that's a discussion for  another time.

So, although when I am in top form, I can read and review one book per day, sometimes I'll sit on a review for a while. Sometimes it's because of a rotation issue, sometimes I'm just backlogged, and sometimes it's because I discover I've messed up.

And that's the case here.I have two books which are a part of a series. One is "Winged Hussars" by Mark Wandrey; the other is "Clawing Back From Chaos," by Alma T C Boykin. Both are the most recently released book in their respective series, and in both cases, I discovered I had not been paying proper attention, because I had read NOTHING in either series. Yes, I have read and reviewed other works by Boykin, but not the Cat Among Dragons series. I am in the process of rectifying that, and as a part of that process, I will be reviewing "A Very UnCONventional Christmas," by Stephanie Osborn, and "Minutegirls," by George Phillies, both of which were provided to me in exchange for a fair review some time back.

But the crisis was precipitated by my realization that I was having a great deal of time following along with the #9 book in the series, "Clawing Back From Chaos.". That's when I discovered I was going to have to go back to the beginning. THAT'S one briar patch I will GLADLY be thrown into.

The Cat, Rada Ni Drako,  doesn't want to be among Dragons. In fact, she would prefer to be left along. However, that option is not open to her, because the Traders, which represent half of her genetic inheritance, treat her as an abomination in the very best of times. Later, the situation escalates, and an open contract is placed on her. Anyone who captures her will be able to use the reward money to live the rest of their lives in luxury.

She goes into hiding, taking the most uninteresting job she can think of: doing the laundry in a licensed brothel, under the bland name of Brownie. Even this hideaway is denied her, however, when one of the administrators seeks to place her in the bed of a disreputable type with political power. She flees, to the only place where her skills might win her the courtesy of isolation: a mercenary guild.

She has training to supplement her superior reflexes, and is quite deadly in hand-to-hand combat of almost any type. Her mixed-race heritage has provided her with some rudimentary ability to detect others by their thoughts, and in some cases, to take control of them. This makes her an excellent training officer.

Meanwhile, and clue the Traders have that she is still alive sends them into a frenzy, and they escalate their offers for her. She is forced to leave job after job until...

...until I can't tell you any more, because of spoilers.

Beautifully written; excellent & complex characters, who are forced to make changes because of the things that happen to them, which gives us the means of seeing what drives character growth. Strange, powerful, secretive forces in the background, doing for others, for unknown reasons of their own. Conflicting rules of societies, which may no longer have any survival value.

And here's what I loved: I enjoyed these characters so much, that I often found myself wondering which book I was reading. I interrupted my reading of the Four Horsemen to return to this series, but some of the events could have been taking place just a few planets over from the other series. Boykin writes fight scenes so well; I loved her tales of Elizabeth and her killer mule Snowy in the Colplatschki Chronicles.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sarah Hoyt, It's a Blast from the Past!

Right before I went to bed last night, I happened to be flipping through old blog posts. I found a post about rising above toxic parenting practices, prompted by a post Sarah had written about her trip to Portugal in 'According to Hoyt,' almost exactly a year ago. Then I posted in the 'Sarah's Diner' Facebook page, and asked others about their practices:

If you journal or blog, do you ever go back and see what you wrote a long time ago? And if so, does it make you laugh, or cry, or both?
Different points of view emerged. Some did, most didn't. Sarah said she didn't, because there was so much! And I get that, with an ink-soaked writer: You are so busy cranking out new content, there's not much opportunity to review.

And yet...

...and yet there have been times in which reading my old writings has been profoundly revealing. I remember reading, a year after they were written, the 1979 New Year's resolutions written when I was a poverty-stricken seminary student & beleaguered youth minister, and realizing they'd come true: I was no longer in poverty, because I had left the ministry, and was working in what would become my first career.

Sometime in 1988, a casual search of my closet discovered something I'd written the year before about my despair of ever being able to control my drinking. I was in the first year of sobriety when I found it, and I remember the deep sense of gratitude, and relief, that came over me when I realized I wasn't dragging that chain around any more. It's now been 29 years, 6 months, and 25 days since my last drink, and some of those 10,798 days have been doozies, but I am still grateful and relieved.

And on a slightly different note, there was a discussion in the Mad Genius Club some years back, cautioning writers not to burn their earlier attempts at writing. It was through that discussion that I discovered my true calling, which is to be a book reviewer, not a book writer. I talked about this in my blog post "The Bonfire Also Illuminates."

And so, I wonder. Sarah is right about the VOLUME of writing that some of us generate; but in that volume there are snippets, scenes where the adult female has a mid-life crisis on an airplane, and emerges with the understanding that she is "an American, born tragically abroad." That's an insight worth re-visiting.

Not going to go too far with it. I plan on looking ahead, reading the books, and writing the reviews. But, just as I take a break from time to time to re-read Heinlein (or Freer, Ringo, Kratman, & Drake), every great once in a while, I'll read some Patterson, too. Like to see if the boy has grown any.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, July 24, 2017

It's Been Difficult, But Well Worth It

Beloved, and all the rest who read:

These past two weeks have been difficult for me. I got very little reading done, and essentially no writing.  I had two MAJOR projects going; both of them were in the class of  "Major Life Events."

Both of them were EXTREMELY time-sensitive, with hard and fast drop-dead dates.

Both of them required me to be dependent on other people, NONE of whom had nearly as much invested in the projects as I do.

Both involved a significant degree of travel, for me as well as for other people. (I don't like travel.)

And, as you well know, there are some things that just can't be put on hold, no matter HOW many important projects are pending. People and pets still have to be fed. Babies have to be changed. Some minimal amount of laundry still has to be done. Toddlers require active supervision, or they will break themselves. Even WITH active supervision, SOMETHING is going to get broken.

But, as of today, projects are completed and were a resounding success.

Will my life return to normal? 

Are you kidding? Here's the outlook for the week:

1. Sometime in the next 48 hours, our youngest daughter (who lives with us) is going to present us with a granddaughter, who is grandchild number 12, and the first girl in 11 years. It will be a big and joyous event.

2. Our next youngest daughter will be trekking through with her two boys, ages 3 years & 5 months, while husband Sam is getting some company training. They live five hours away, so we don't get to see them often, so it's a big & joyous event.

3. One week from today, Alicia and Kenneth will each be given their walk-through of their middle school classes, and the next day, Tuesday August 1, the school year starts. It will be a big and joyous event; if not for them, it will be for me.

4. If my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, does NOT quit her job SOON (like, yesterday would have been good), I may have to go into downtown Atlanta and chew through the cabling connecting her office building to the grid. I need new teeth anyway, and there are so many lawyers in Atlanta, one building full of them won't be missed.

That's a lot of stuff, but actually, for the Patterson Household, that IS normal, sort of. Lots of family things, all important, some of it fairly difficult. Hopefully not as difficult as the concentrated effort of the last two weeks, but, here's my take-away:

1. It takes effort to produce beauty, and
2. It's worth it.

Beauty is found, mostly, in relationships. Relationships (and I mean HEALTHY relationships) convert the energy you put into them into joy, and intimacy, and understanding, and acceptance.
Frequently difficult, true. But it's well worth it.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Straight Outta Tombstone

The link to my Amazon review will be found HERE,  and I made this editorial change at 1:13 AM Wednesday.

I got my copy from Baen, but you can get it from Amazon if you click the picture link .

Okay, we need to talk about the cover. It's by Dominic Harman, and I've seen his work before, BUT:

It's never sold me a book before.

As a matter of fact, I can't think of a time as an adult when artwork has ever sold me a book. Maybe when I was a kid, browsing the paperbacks on sale at Dorsey's Pharmacy in Macon, but even then, I'd mostly buy because it was by Ian Fleming. Yes, I was reading James Bond in the sixth grade. What's the problem?

But, the zombie cowboy with a pair of ...(stop right there.)

A pair of WHAT?

Six guns? Revolvers? Cowboy pistols?

No, those are sho 'nuff Colt Single Action Army. I hate it when authors make gun mistakes, and I LOVE it when they get it right. And I REALLY love it when the artists get it right. Listen: I just pulled one of MY Single Action Army Model 1873 revolvers out of the gun cabinet to verify. Dominic nailed it! He got the grip right, he shows the groove on top of the chamber because there are no rear sights on SAA, and in the gun held in the zombie's left hand, you can even make out the loading gate.

And before some smarty-pants critiques trigger discipline, these are SINGLE ACTION revolvers. It makes NO difference that the trigger finger of BOTH hands is in contact with a trigger, because the firearm in his left hand has the hammer down. It will NOT fire, until he points it at you, pulls back the hammer, and applies a certain amount of pressure to the bang switch, see?

So I'll SEE yer Four Rules of Gun Safety, and RAISE you a ZOMBIE COWBOY, okay?

And yes, the end of that barrel has a bore size perhaps best described as ...prodigious.
Because that's what a .45 Colt (or .44-40 WCF) looks like when it's in yer face, pilgrim. My pair are chambered in .357, and THAT'S enough to make ya whimper.

Sigh. I now leave off discussion of the cover art, which in my opinion is THE best story in the book, to consider the words which are written down. All of them, in some way or another, deal with CTOW,  Creepy Things Out West. There really isn't a 'best one!' story in this collection, in my opinion. Many different styles, of course, but even Waffle House has more than one item on the menu.

Not that I ever need to use the menu at Waffle House, but it's nice to have choices.

BUBBA SHACKLEFORD’S PROFESSIONAL MONSTER KILLERS by Larry Correia. Ever since Owen got to throw his boss out of the window, his fans have been clamoring for more. And, by going into the past, we can get a LOT more Monster Hunter stories. Some things stay the same: not all monsters are evil; chicks with guns are WAY cool; and NOBODY ever said “Dang, why did I bring all this ammunition?” Oh, yeah, and the government is mental.

TROUBLE IN AN HOURGLASS by Jody Lynn Nye. Well, her name isn't REALLY trouble. Beauty may, perhaps, be only skin deep, but mischief goes right down to the bone. Mom tends bar with a shotgun, daddy builds time machines in the shed.

THE BUFFALO HUNTERS by Sam Knight.  What do you get when you go hunting buffalo with a giant Russian count and his daughter? Well, you get buffalo, for one thing. Not much sport to it, but this sort of thing really happened. In this case, though, it's not the buffalo that are the biggest threat.

THE SIXTH WORLD by Robert E. Vardeman.  This story combines mad scientists, native spook stuff, and little grey men. The most sympathetic character gets killed first, but he was sort of a wimp.

EASY MONEY by Phil Foglio. Nasty, nasty man writes a story with a punchline at the end. It's a HECK of a good cowboy story, too.

THE WICKED WILD by Nicole Givens Kurtz. This could ALMOST not be a Wild West story, but it's the wicked ways of the Wild West that make the people possible. Umm, I didn't mean to do that much alliteration. Anyway, bad guys use to be able to get away with stuff until they got shot. Or something.

CHANCE CORRIGAN AND THE LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD by Michael A. Stackpole. Nicely steampunk in nature, a classic tale of the poor & downtrodden being taken advantsge of by the owners of the mine.

THE GREATEST GUNS IN THE GALAXY by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Ken Scholes. After the Big Shoot-Out, there's always some kid who thinks he has to prove himself. Usually, the story ends with a pimply 15 year old staring up at a blue sky. Sometimes it ends in zombies. Or not.

DANCE OF BONES by Maurice Broaddus. When you take a man's money, you do the job he hired you to do. And if that means you have to do a little extra? Well, that's a risk you take.

DRY GULCH DRAGON by Sarah A. Hoyt. Would you want your sister to marry a dragon? There's really NOTHING I can say about that concept without the risk of offending a brother-in-law. Really. I've got some responses, but I think I may have gone a bit far already.

THE TREEFOLD PROBLEM by Alan Dean Foster. Mad Amos Malone and his trusty steed, Worthless, are not the sort you want to aggravate. Amos walks into a foreclosure situation, and, well, they just blow the competition away.

 FOUNTAINS OF BLOOD by David Lee Summers. It's rather a creepy title, but I don't know what I'd come up with to replace it. A hired gun goes beyond the necessary minimums to provide true service to the man who hired him; and there are vampires, and a bodacious lady marshal who rides a motorcycle called Wolf.

HIGH MIDNIGHT by Kevin J. Anderson. The Shamblin' Zombie Private Eye encounters the ethics of the Wild West through time travel. Sort of.

COYOTE by Naomi Brett Rourke. This particular story has just as much non-natural events as the others, but it reads truer. Some of the other stories NEED a volume like this in order to exist; this one doesn't. The story of the old man and his grand-daughter could appear anywhere from Boy's Life to Playboy to Good Housekeeping. Maybe not Popular Mechanics.

THE KEY by Peter J. Wacks. Sorry. Didn't get this one. It has lots of famous people in it, though. And there is whiskey involved.

A FISTFUL OF WARLOCKS by Jim Butcher. Everybody said Wyatt Earp was a tough lawman. He says, in this story, that he can't leave just because the bad guys want him to, or pretty soon everybody will be pushing him. Seems like a good philosophy for a Wild West lawman to have.

Peace be on your household.