Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I don't read scary stuff

Before talking about why I won't read scary stuff, I want to admit that my blog output has been down lately.
Most of that can be attributed to the fact that I am just now getting over pneumonia, and that my recovery time included some long times in the car, driving to Florida to visit family etc. No, I didn't go swimming, but I did see the ocean. It's big.
I did do some reading, though, which I mention in my last blog post. I reviewed several works on Amazon, but hardly any on my blog. Reasons: My blog is ALWAYS more chatty than my reviews. And what with the recuperation and sleeping most of the day, I haven't been chatty. It takes additional effort to write the blog after writing the review, and what little awake time I had, I put into reading and reviewing, rather than blogging. The writers deserve to have me promote their works through the Amazon reviews, because there is a miniscule chance that those will get read. Nobody but the faithful few read my blog, and for all of you, I am truly grateful. So, it was just a matter of putting the work in where the artists could get the best payoff.
I'm better now, so the thought of doing a blog post doesn't nauseate me. I even have a topic, and it's about reading, so duh, I guess. That's what 95 % of my blogs are, BY ACTUAL COUNT!!! (no, that was a lie).
One of the last items reviewed was a short story by Cedar Sanderson, The Twisted Breath of God. It is the spookiest work by Cedar I've ever read, and when I commented on that at Sarah's Diner, Sanford said it was one of only two spooky works she had done,. He said the other was "Mindflow."
My first reaction, which I posted without reflection, was "How do I get it? It's not on Amazon?" But then I contemplated. Scary? Hmmmm...maybe not. In fact, definitely not. I don't read scary stuff, can't watch scary movies, can't even stand to hear people talking about scary stuff.
Now, I know what you are thinking: You big baby, grow up. And here's my answer: NO!
Not in this respect, at least. I'm working along just fine without reading horror stuff. I have had no problem avoiding scary stuff on film, EXCEPT for a brief time about 35 years ago when I had a roommate who loved the art form. He dragged me to a few horror pics at the drive in, so I shot him and rolled his body into the Chattahoochee. (NOT)
As it happens, I know exactly when I began to actively avoid horror. It was in 1970, I was in the first grade at Sunset Hills Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, and Wlad Disney (dear, lovable Uncle Wlad) came out with "Darby O'Gill and the Little People", with Sean Connery, for you film trivia people. And in the movie was....a banshee. It came to pick up those about to die, and screamed. Yes, dear Uncle Wlad, just EXACTLY what all six year old boys and girls need to have burned into their brains.
(NOTE: the 'Wlad' thing started out as a typo for 'Walt,' but then I realized that since I was responding to nightmarish terror he inculcated into my developing brain, maybe Wlad would be a good idea. so, Wlad it is.)
And, the nightmares started. I'd wake up in the night, screaming, and crying to my mama that I was afraid the banshee was going to get me. Had to have a light on. And I slept with my head under the covers so it couldn't see me.
Now, that eased up, over the years, but I never, ever developed an affection for horror stories. I had to be careful about what Twilight Zone episodes I watched. Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night, and KNOW there was something in the room with you, and that if you called out, it would get you? No? Well, maybe tonight. We can hope.
I can't say that ANY of my drug-involved behavior was ever touched by good sense. However, one of the things I did NOT do, and something that was regarded as a lot of fun by certain of my doper pals (this is 1969 -1970 ish), was to get stoned out of the gourd, and tell ghost stories. Me? No frappen way. They, of course, thought that was just the greatest fun, to start with the eerie voices and watch me run (I was almost always the biggest kid in the room). When I was 17, I kid you not, I made them take me home. I hopped out of the VW bug, screaming for my mom, running for th4e kitchen door, and that night, I made the dog sleep in my room. She was a pekingese-terrier mix, named Yum-Yum, and about as fierce as warm butter, but that night, she kept the boogey-mans away from my room.
So, now I'm 62, a fat crippled biker. The only drugs I take are the boring ones prescribed for my decrepit body. And I still don't do horror.
Well, that's all I really wanted to say, but I figure I may as well disclose this: there are a couple of other genres I don't read, besides horror. I don't read anything that's sexually explicit, BUT I did have to open up my range a bit in that area. Amanda Green, writing as Ellie Ferguson, wrote the 'Hunter's Moon' trilogy, which I read and ran from at first, convinced it was erotica. HOWEVER, I was told that a certain amount of sex is a requirement for that genre, and I read the first volume to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and she assured me that's about right for romance. So, now, if I can read it to Vanessa, I'll do it. I won't read any rapy works, which includes bondage/s&m type stuff. In the Keldar series, Ringo writes some stuff that I just skip over, but if EVERY chapter was like that, I'd dump the book. I won't read anything that involves bad stuff happening to children, particularly sexual activity. It's for that reason that I wasn't able to get into Law & Order: SVU, although I do love the rest of the franchise. I also won't read anything that is a thinly disguised political rant. There are probably other no-go items, but I hope you get the picture. I even had to turn down a book recently that WASN'T in one of those categories, but APPEARED to be, until a late revela showed it was innocent. I just couldn't get the creepiness out of my head, and returned the book with my explanation.
A FINAL note, and I'm not kidding: I won't let one book, or one series, turn me off an author. There are some favorite authors who have written stuff I won't touch, but have a body of work I enjoy. So: if you recommend something to me, and I send it back, I will explain why it isn't my cup of tea. I write reviews primarily to give feedback to authors, and I will NEVER ambush one with an attack review. I think I've only written a single one-star review on Amazon, and it was for a lying piece of dreck that harmed people.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Read this while she drives that, Dave Freer, Amanda Green, and Cedar Sanderson

First, overall impressions, and then book-specific reviews at the end.
I must mention, before I lapse into a state of forgetfulness, that I read to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, during our recent trip to Florida. First, I read Dave Freer​'s "The Road to Dundee," which I have reviewed on Amazon. She loved it, and wants it made into a movie. Then, I read "Hunted," by Amanda​, under her pen-name of Ellie Ferguson. She liked that a LOT, and I may have to read to her the rest of the trilogy. Finally, I read two of Cedar​'s short stories to her, "Memories of the Abyss" and "Fairy Little Sister." And, as might be expected, she loved them, and wants them made into HALLMARK movies (this time, she was specific).
Before we were married, but after we were engaged, I gave her a copy of Starship Troopers, and told her that if she wished to understand the Patterson Boys, she needed to read this book. That's been more than four years now, and I KNOW she hasn't read it. I also had her watch The Princess Bride with me and then 6 year old Kenneth and 5 year old Alicia, and they loved it, but it didn't quite fit for her. However, when we watched The Big Lebowski together, she quickly began calling me Walter, and she also thinks I resemble the character John Malkovich played in RED. I cannot disagree with either of those decisions.
I wasn't sure, though, how she was going to react to Mad Genius Club writings. I have, at times, made her slightly suspicious when I have raved about something I've read, and she looked at me funny when I proposed going to Liberty Con because of the double weddings (Sarah & Dan Hoyt and  Cedar Sanderson &Sanford Begley, for those who read this who aren't Dinerzins).
As it turned out, my fears were groundless. I had to do a bit of preliminary exposition with 'The Road to Dundee', since some of the terms would be unfamiliar to her, and also explain that the main character in 'Hunted'  was a shape shifter, but that was only a matter of a few minutes.
I was a little surprised that she enjoyed "The Road to Dundee" so much. I thought the fact that the woman is a supernatural being might put her off, but I think the message of betrayal and redemption far outweighs anything eerie, and evidently, she felt the same.
I am an utter ignoramus about trashy novels, which I believe are also referred to as 'Romance' novels. I get it that they are a huge market, and that a minimum of bodice-ripping is demanded, but when I first tried to read 'Hunted,' I stopped with the first steamy scene. I have been assured that it's mild, but it wasn't anything I had experience with. Since Vanessa HAS some experience with what she refers to as her trashy novels, I thought she would be a proper audience. And she loved it. Therefore, I had to entirely revise the earlier review I did for Hunted. Only the new review is below, although I believe the original is INCLUDED still on Amazon.

Fairy Little Sister and Memories of the Abyss are both short works.

Here are the reviews:

I received a copy of 'The Road the Dundee' from the author to review.
The story is a re-telling of the traditional Scottish song, "The Road and the Miles to Dundee," with a great deal explained that is missing in the song.
The biggest question that comes up when reading or hearing the lyrics is this: what in the WORLD is a young woman doing all alone in the wilderness? In Dave's story, he makes explicit the dangers she would face; in the turmoil after the defeat of the Scottish forces at Culloden, Scottish refugees are fleeing across the land, looking for asylum, while 'Butcher Cumberland' (the youngest son of King George II) pursues to capture or put to death. A young woman alone would likely be quickly robbed, raped, and murdered, either by fleeing rebels or by roving patrols of the Brits.
Donald, the protagonist, has set out with revenge as his only goal. He has heard that his true love, Mary, has not waited for him after all, but has married a Scottish officer in the service of King George, and he plans to kill her for her infidelity. Too late, he discovers that she has left with her new husband,depriving him of a focus for his wrath. Without an army, without a love, without a hiding place, and now without a target for his vengeance, Donald comes upon a beautiful young maiden in the wilderness....
...who is no maiden at all, but an ancient water spirit, herself seeking vengeance for a long-ago wrong done to her. All she needs, in order to draw Donald's life from him, is for him to attempt to seduce her. Then she can feed on his life, and begin her search for her next victim.
But honor has a part to play as well, and sometimes victory is won in silence.

Okay, BRAND NEW review. Read the old stuff if you want to, just ignore it.
Hunted is the first in a the Hunter's Moon trilogy. It tells the story of Meg Finley, or Finn, a jaguar shape-shifter who is on the run.
When we meet her, she is working as a courier in Dallas, and has just discovered she has been located by trackers working for Michael Jennings, leader of a shifter clan in Northern California. Just as they attack her in a parking garage, along comes Matt Kincade, head of the Dallas clan. He takes her to safety, and then it gets weird.
Yeah, in a shape-shifter story, how do you tell?
Well, it seems that as soon as Meg comes into contact with Matt, she resonates with him, not only as a woman, but as a shape-shifter as well. Matt returns the feeling, but before he will proceed with the relationship, he has to figure out why a female Alpha is on the run, and not affiliated with, or even leading, a clan. That happens to be a bit of new information for Meg; since she has been on the run since age 15, she had no idea her persona was Alpha Female. 
And the plot thickens. 
Yes, romance lovers, they do the deed. It's not oppressive, and if you don't want to read that sort of thing, it's pretty easy to skip over it. You will still get a great story, because the book is much, much more than just an excuse for hot bodies to hook up. There is a great mystery at the heart of the book: why she had to go on the run, and where she fits into the overall scheme of shifter life.

 I read the book to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, on a recent road trip to Florida. She loved the story, and assured me the interaction is mild mannered for Romance.

It's a cute little story, and the cover design is so sweet it will require diabetics to take an insulin shot.
I do NOT know why adults think kids are utterly ignorant about everything. Gregory absolutely gets that his mother is going to have a baby, but the way the adults try to hide things from him make him a bit afraid something bad is going to happen.
I was just a bit older when I got my own fairly little sister, so I share some of his sense of joy and wonder in the process. I didn't have the great preliminary introduction, but, as always, everybody has a different story to tell. This is a very sweet story, and it would be good to read to any older brother or sister on the occasion of  a new baby.

I paid for access to  this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

I love stories of redemption, and this one falls into that category.
It's got a creepy setting, and a slow, slow reveal. That's NOT a tedious 'slow, slow,' though, just a 'hang on every word' slow.
Here's the dedication to the story:
"For all those who still exist in a prison of their mind. Freedom is possible."

That may be all the review needs to say, but in the interest of hooking you enough to buy to book, I'll go further.
Violet is an inmate in a mental hospital. She avoids communication with anyone, mostly by her inability to talk. She will, when necessary, write and share what she has written in a notebook, but mostly, she prefers to be by herself.
She has one fiend: an old, quiet soul named Walter. He sees the shyness in her, and compares her to a kitten he once rescued. He allows her to proceed with him at her own pace, never hurrying her.
That allows her to open up, a bit, to her own memories. They are terrible, and give us brief glimpses of her abuse at the hands of a brutal husband. We aren't sure whether she murdered him or not, because she is not sure.
She is slowly recovering, but has a long, long way to go; and then Walter is found dead. He was her one link to humanity, and now he's gone. It could be an occasion for her to revert to total isolation, but instead, she musters her resources, and sets about solving the mystery of his death. n the process, she finds some adversaries, and some allies, but she perseveres.
If I told you more, I'd get into spoiler territory, so I'll stop here.
I purchased access to this book through the Kindle Unlimited Lending Library.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

S & W .45, by Gina Marie Wylie plus a Leslie Fish plug

I borrowed S&W .45 from the Kindle Unlimited Lending Library. Under the provisions of the new reimbursement plan for authors, Gina Marie ought to make a potful of money off this borrow, since the book is 493 pages long. Umm...that last is sort of a joke. No, I don't expect she will make a lot off the borrow, particularly since the book is priced at an economical $2.99. Actually, I haven't heard yet how authors are  making out on the new deal.
I hope Gina makes a ton.
It bugs me that authors aren't rich. It bugs me that Leslie Fish isn't filthy stinking rich. All of her stuff isn't even on Amazon, but you ought to track it down and buy it anyway. I'm serious about this. She is a foundation of filk, and she ain't getting no younger. You know what she's doing? She's out in the desert, trying to bring back rare and endangered species of plants, which ain't no picnic when the temperature hits a million. Send her some money here. She's also breeding cats for intelligence.
Here's her album that has 'Banned From Argo' on it, which she hates and refuses to play. BUT:

( and that's a big but) if everybody who ever HEARD 'Banned From Argo' sent her a DOLLAR at the above link, it would be way cool. Here's the Firefly version.
You know what Sarah Hoyt, the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess is doing? Scraping nasty bits of paint and wax and trying to get her house ready to be sold, and carrying big honken boxes to Goodwill. And do you know WHY? Because she ain't got the dough to hire someone else to do it. So, the mind that gave us Draw One in the Dark, A Few Good Men, Darkship Thieves, and Nuns in Space is doing grunt labor, and not writing.
And it bugs me. I had a the first two volumes of Isaac Asimov's autobiography, which took him up to 1978, and he devotes a significant effort to documenting his writing income compared to his income as a college professor. Why? Because even as probably the most prolific sci-fi and every other genre writer, and certainly one of the most popular and influential,at one point he LIED about his income because he was embarrassed about it when questioned.
I hope hope hope hope hope this changes. It may very well do so, with the advent of CYBERBOOKS (which is a big shout out to Ben Bova), indie, Amazon, KULL, and all of the other stuff that's coming down the pike. Richard Schultz-Mann, in 'Relic of the Empire,' a short story by Larry Niven, addresses the problem of authors, which is attracting a public.
That's why I'm writing Amazon reviews and blogs. I LIKE having lots of things to read. And I would very much like authors to keep writing them. So, I review.
Now, here's the review, which will appear in Amazon in a bit:
Sherrie Richardson is a not-nice person. She was born into a privileged family, and was beautiful and pampered and engaged in every self-indulgent behavior she could think of.  She knows it, and it really doesn't bother her. Her daddy-o was a rising politician, until he blew his brains out, and she was dumped out of the princess train and had to get a Real Job.
And, amazingly, she is good at it. She is competent and pro-active, and it's a bit of a surprise, to her, if not to others. (And BTW, if it's not a surprise to others, it's because no one else cares. She's alienated people her entire life, mostly.)
Then she has to go mess it all up by becoming filthy rich by winning the lottery.
Minor (I think) spoiler alert.
And THEN we get into the first of what I think is a rather bizarre scenes: upon learning Sherrie is rich, her female room-mate attempts to seduce her. Later, there is a Japanese ninja, also female, who want to seduce her. And finally, out of the blue, there is an intern (also female) she meets in the middle of a pitched battle who attempts to seduce her, and the book ends with her agreeing to make a date with the intern.
All of this is behavior with which I am not familiar. I am inclined to believe that Sherrie is tossing off some availability signals that she does not recognize, and which are not detected in the narrative. I've had numerous same-sex  room mates, and while none of them were rich, I really find it impossible to believe that I would ever respond to wealth on their part by wanting to boink them or being boinked by them. Fer shure, it changed the dynamics when one roomie got a higher paying job, but mostly in terms of how much booze we could buy.I have absolutely zero insight into Japanese sexual customs, so, I won't comment on the ninja with the hots for her. However, I have had extensive contact with people in the medical profession, and while some of them are utter idiots in terms of their life choices, I find it very, very unlikely that a doc would jeopardize her career on the basis of a extremely brief encounter in a combat zone. YMMV.
The core of the book is that an acquired cousin of Sherrie's is systematically killing people, particularly people she has ever known, and appears to be seeking the world record in body count. This includes an aunt and uncle, which puts Sherrie in the position of caring for a 15 year-old cousin, male,  named Weaver Gold. As it happens, Weaver is not only a superbly talented computer geek, he is also a superstar in the field of anime.
This is also an area about which I know nothing.
Sherrie san Weaver are forced to go into hiding after another failed attack on their lives, and Sherrie, for reasons, is placed into the Army as a first lieutenant, and given a section of electronic nerds to supervise.
Look, it's FICTION, ok? You can DO things like that in fiction. It's an important plot point, and you are just going to have to give the author some leeway here. If you want to say, no, that's never ever ever going to happen, go ahead and get it out of your system. It may BE fantastic, but it doesn't even begin to approach the malarkey you see on the big screen.
Just as she proved surprisingly competent as a truck dispatcher, she proves to be as an Army officer. She even is able to qualify with an M16.
Okay. I will absolutely, positively grant you all of the above departures as needful to the plot of the story, from the Secret Master of Evil cousin to the lesbian attraction to the unexpected proficiencies with administering truck dispatching and electronic-repair sections. But: one star is lost because of the title. In the first place, the title is the ONLY place where S&W (for Smith and Wesson) is mentioned. At 58% through the book (don't know how that matches up in page count), Sherrie is issued 'a 1911A1 .45 pistol' and while Sherrie does take some shots with the pistol, it's just NOT a character in the book.
I'm a gun guy. I'm a 1911 guy. And I expect more from a book titled S&W .45  than what I got. Quibble? Yeah. Absolutely. Well, maybe not. See, the reason I picked THIS book is because of the title. Deceptive advertising. Can't let it go. Sorry.
Still: this was a good read.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Post about Amazon reviews : One Year

I've been reviewing on Amazon for over a year now; my first review was of "Plant Life," by Cedar Sanderson, a member of The Mad Genius Club as well as the Evil League of Evil, on July 6, 2014. So, I missed my birthday.
I knew nothing of the significance of Amazon reviews, but a small amount of investigation (meaning I asked a frakken question, not hours in the library) disclosed that authors who publish on Amazon have their books rated on how popular they are. Therefore, good reviews are a sort of rarified currency for authors: lots of reviews means high ranking, high ranking means more visibility, more visibility means more sales, more sales means royalties. And Amazon evidently gives bodacious royalties, compared to traditional publishers, and this has encouraged many more people to write books and publish them independently. And since there are more books, it's harder to get noticed, hence the need for reviews.
Now, when I was a lad, I used to wish I didn't have to work, and could spend all my time reading. Lo and behold, this is EXACTLY the circumstances I found myself in. Time enough at last, and unlike Burgess Meredith, I did not need glasses (laser surgery in 1999 at Woodham's in Atlanta). But, books are expensive, even e-books, even though Gutenberg and Open Library provide freebies. Fortunately, Baen provided me with a VIP pass, since I am permanently and totally disabled, so I had that access to current work. However, watching the discussion among the Mad Geniuses, I discovered there was a program called Kindle Unlimited Lending Library, where for the paltry sum of $9.95 per month, I could borrow as many books as I wished, PROVIDED of course that the author had elected to place them in the KU program. I resolved to join that program, and to read works by the authors in MGC, and to review those works on Amazon. My reviews were to be impeccably honest; if I did not like what I read, I would say so, and why.
Now, I had another reason for writing the reviews, other than to promote the books, which was to provide meaningful feedback to authors.
 For my entire professional career, I was known as the go-to guy when something needed to be written: reports, grant proposals, and colleagues' dissertations. The Wordsmith, they called me, a title I bore with pride. I always had in the back of my mind that one day I would turn my hand to fiction, and write wonderful novels. But when I started to write fiction, I sent up a trial balloon: a short story, expandable into a novel, which I submitted to publishers and agents, all of whom responded with "doesn't meet our needs at this time." I never got one word of criticism, constructive or otherwise, and it was frustrating to realize that I didn't even know if they read what I wrote. So, upon the advice of the experienced writers, I submitted my work for perusal on a slush-pile forum, the work to be critiqued by others participating in the forum. The first response I got addressed some grammatical errors. I fixed those, and re-submitted. Here is every single word of feedback I got on the story I was pinning my hopes on:

"Seems fine."
Yup. That's it. two words. Not to knock it; at least that person, PBUH, took the time to give two words.
So, I contemplated. See, the deal was that it really wasn't so important to me that my writing was GREAT!!!! and MARVELOUS!!!! and a BEST SELLER!!!!! because my kids were raised, and I had  decent pension and social security, so I did NOT need to sell books in order to eat. What I really wanted was someone to TELL ME WHAT THEY THOUGHT ABOUT MY WORK.
And as I contemplated, I realized that was probably true for the MGC members and friends as well.  They desired money, fer shure, but being human, they also desired meaningful feedback. In fact, any number of them had explicitly stated that this was the case, that they preferred a meaningful 3-star review over a 5-star "Great read!" review.
So, mostly, that's what I've been doing. 120 reviews on Amazon, 114 posts here on my blog, and while there have been exceptions on my blog (like this post), it's all done to promote the works of authors, and provide them with meaningful review.
And MOST (not all) of those reviews are from books obtained through KU. Not counting other Amazon purchases, I have paid $90 thus far (since last November, when I joined KU) for the privilege of reading. That's less than a buck a book. It's been a good deal.
Then, last month, two things changed. The first change was with the way authors were paid for books in KU, which didn't directly impact me. For the authors, though, instead of being paid a flat rate after 10% of their work was read, they are now being paid proportionally to the number of pages read (for some value of 'pages').
The second change, which does have somewhat of an impact on me, is a change in the way books are ranked. From now on, books will be ranked based on
1. the 'freshness' of a review,
2. on whether the reviewer is a Verified Purchaser  (and KU isn't a VP)
3. on the helpfulness of the reviewer, based on the number of helpful votes the reviewer receives.
Now, in the past, my reviewer ranking has not mattered to me one bit. I noticed it, but paid no attention to it. My first review gave me a ranking of 14 million. I have climbed recently into the mid 40 thousands. And it didn't matter. I wasn't even sure what went into reviewer ranking; was it number of reviews written? 'Helpful' votes? Reviews in different areas? Didn't know. Didn't particularly care.
But now, it DOES matter, because my ranking has an impact on the author's book ranking.
And so, I find myself knocking on doors, selling greeting cards   asking authors and internet friends for 'helpful' votes on my reviews. I really don't want to do that, BUT if I am to best promote these works, I need the highest rating I can get.
Full disclosure: based on what I have discovered in the past two days, top Amazon reviewers are offered swag to review. Some comes through the Amazon Vine program, some directly from vendors. I am not requesting 'helpful' votes so I can get swag. (I doubt it's very GOOD swag, anyway.)
There is not much we can do about the fact that KU reviews don't have the same weight as Verified Purchase reviews. I rather think this is a short-term error; it's my understanding that Amazon is trying to eliminate bogus reviews, which appear to have been a problem. Reviews of a book obtained through KU still count, they just don't count as much as a verified purchase review; we hope this will change. In the future, though, I will make the appropriate designation on all my reviews of KU books.
A final note: I have just flipped through six paged of my reviews, and y'all, I have written some EXCELLENT ca-ca there that has not received a SINGLE helpful vote. Shall I call you at home?
A really, really final note: I read books because it is my format for experiencing wonder. Whether I review or not, I will read. And whether I get helpful; votes or not, I will review.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The 'Unquiet Gods' series, by David E. Pascoe

I borrowed each of the six stories in the Unquiet Gods series through the KU program. A smidge less than $10 per month, and I get some great books. You should try it!
Caveat: these books are borderline creepy, so creepy that they might scare me off. What kept me with the story is the theme of redemption in each of the stories; each character has flaws, but each is determined not to be victims of the dark forces.
I reviewed Shadow Hands some time back, and it's got a line that I might just write down on a sheet of paper, and look at when I want to know what a good writer can do: "She played until her hands hurt, and her heart didn't."
MAN, that is a good line!
It's speaking about Melody, the main character in the first book. She really sets up the rest of the series: evil creepy things are out to get her, and she's the only one who can see them. She discovers that her music has power, though; whether on her violin, or a penny whistle, or just humming, Melody can drive the forces of darkness away. And she gets a gold coin, as well.
The gold coin is passed from character to character throughout the series; that, and Melody's music, tie things together.
Ummmm....I guess the evil monsters that no one else can see sort of tie things together, too.  But in a bad way, y'know?
After Melody triumphs, she meets up with Tourney, a homeless veteran. The monsters are after his friends. Tourney has a weapon of power, two pieces of rebar welded together, and secured with duct tape and cord. It can whack monsters. (Coin pass. Look, it gets passed EVERY TIME, okay, I'm not going to mention it any more.)(Well, yeah, maybe I will. For continuity, or whatever.)
Tourney comes to the assistance of Mike the Bouncer, and passes thew coin to him. Mike is gifted with the power to heal, in addition to his ability to hippo stomp people.
Mike PARTIALLY heals Pat (his story comes later), but he passes the coin to Anne, a fellow martial artist and bouncer. She has a special ability to assault the forces of evil who are attacking her younger sib and other people, and she passes the coin on to Vincent.
Vincent is an astoundingly gifted violinist, who has his musical ability stripped away. He also is the figure pursued during a creepy, creepy sequence, when strangers and friends all combine to drive him crazy. This would make a great scene in a movie, and in fact, it's pretty easy to visualize as it's written. He falls, literally, into a safe place, where he is given a book of power, and, we are led to understand, a future.
Vincent passes the coin to Pat, who was partially healed by Mike. Pat is a NYPD detective, who is under a cloud due to his bizarre actions earlier. He teams up with Melody (circle complete), and the two of them contrive to rescue and attack people and things which need it. HOWEVER, this is NOT the end of the series. The other stories just aren't released yet.
I don't quite understand the reason the stories are released individually. I confess: I have done nothing like a page count, and I read blisteringly fast, so I don't know whether the combination is too long for a book, or if they are all novella length, or short stories, or whatever. That's one of the advantages of the KU program; you pay one price, and you can read all month: novels, short stories, doesn't matter what the list price is, you get them equally free.
I have written individual reviews of these works on Amazon. Those of you who enjoy David's work should do the same. Reviews are ONE of the factors that contribute to books moving up the list. It is unclear to me how much the RATING of the REVIEWER contributes to that movement; however, until I hear otherwise, I'm operating with the assumption that a highly rated reviewer carries more weight than a lowly rated reviewer. THAT MAY NOT BE THE CASE; AMAZON KNOWS, BUT I DO NOT! In any event, I ask you to read my review, and if you find it helpful, please mark it so. The authors will benefit, and on their behalf, I thank you.

Friday, July 3, 2015

"Sleeping Duty," by Laura Montgomery

I'm doing things a bit differently with my reviews now, based on the two different places they appear. Both of these are important, to me, but also to the authors I review. What you are reading here, of course, is the review that goes into my blog. Consider this as the bonus content you get on the DVD. The other place the review appears is on Amazon.
Way back in the dawn of time, say around April of this year, the reviews were the same. In fact, I'd usually write the review on Amazon, then copy and paste it to my blog. Then I experienced a couple of minor hiccups with that. Mostly it centered around the brief delay (usually brief, sometimes not so brief) between the time I submitted the Amazon review and the time it posted. A small matter, actually. But because of the delay, I started writing the reviews on my blog FIRST, the copying THAT over to Amazon. And that brought with it two problems, one irritating, but minor, and the other PERHAPS major.
The irritating but minor problem is that Amazon doesn't allow you to post a review with non-Amazon urls. The other day, I tried to copy and paste my blog review of  'Cyberbooks' to Amazon, and it rejected my review several times; I THINK it was because I mentioned getting the book from Baen in the text, and initially provided the link. Even after I took out the link, though, it still rejected the review. So, I had to start from scratch, with a pitiful little piece of monkey-scratched writing, and they took it.
The perhaps major problem is: TL;DR. And I JUST found out about a week ago that stands for Too Long, Didn't Read. When I copy my blog post to Amazon, it's got all the bonus content included, and it goes on for paragraphs, AND THAT'S NOT WHAT AMAZON READERS WANT IN A REVIEW!!! (I don't think.)
Here's the deal: my blog and my Amazon reviews are different, because NOBODY reads my blog posts unless they mean to.  That is the exact opposite from Amazon, where my posts get read because people want to know about the author's work. My chattiness works here; it doesn't work on Amazon. I can prove that to you: this pitiful blog garners, in most cases, 50+ page views. The top three posts were way above that, and I still put some things out there that only result in 20 views, but usually, I'm trying to hit 50 views. On Amazon, it is RARE that I get even ONE vote for 'this review was helpful.' There was one exception to that; my first Peter Grant novel review got 16 positive votes, because I noted that this wasn't the Peter Grant who wrote gay porn. There is such a person, and I read his amusing work, stopping at the first zipper scene. That's when I was sure there were at least two different Peter Grants writing on Amazon.
All of the above is just background material, and that's all the non-Laura Montgomery blog-specific content you get. Here's some Laura Montgomery content:
First: This is another GREAT cover by Peter Smith. Here's where he puts his commercial work, and if you click the link you can see the four covers of her work. They are all my favorite, but my favorite favorite is the cover for 'The Sky Suspended.' She took the picture for that herself with her telephone; it's her son, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Look at the rest of Phil's work while you are on the site.
I loved Laura's LAWYERS IN S-P-A-A-C-E!!!! books, which encompass (sort of) Erawan, Manx Prize, and The Sky Suspended. I hope we get more of those. I was sure she was an engineer when I read Manx Prize; she writes that well. Plus, this is my cat's favorite book. Her name is SugarBelly, and she is a fat black Manx, who likes to walk across the keyboard from time to time; she says that SHE is the Manx Prize, and is glad Laura wrote a book about her, and she can haz cheeseburger.

The following is the content of my review on Amazon, and the end of my blog post:

You wake up, disoriented. Try to move. You feel rusty, really rusty; but it's coming back to you.
You signed up to be a colonist, with your new wife, after serving your time in the service. You made it.
But when you ask the medics for your wife, it all starts to go wrong. They won't answer your questions.
And you find out you missed your destination, and while you were sleeping, somebody destroyed your future. With a king.
Time to reject their reality, and substitute your own...
This is MOSTLY an adventure story. It's also a time travel story. And a love story. And Laura the space lawyer can't help herself, she has to throw in these goofy little lines. And situations, such as: you have to catch chickens if you run away, because if you don't eat an egg every day, you will die. And the name of the planet, which is NWWWLF, for Not What We Were Looking For.
It's a good stand-alone novel; nothing left that you HAVE to know about. However, there is PLENTY that you WANT to know about, so let's send Laura our 'write-fast' monkeys to make her life run smoothly.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Darwin's World." by Jack L Knapp

Normally, I wouldn't do two blog posts in one day, but I'm still catching up on my backlog.
HOWEVER, this means I DON'T have to be massively clever in THIS review, because I already did most of that in my first one today.
In fact, that's the only blog-specific writing you get, because I tried to cover the rest of it on Amazon, and the Amazon review follows:

Let me say this up front because otherwise I'll forget it: The cover is GREAT, and it made me want to read the book. It's by Mia Darien, who I just discovered is also a writer, and I'm gonna look at her stuff as well.
Okay. There is a whole series of time travel science fiction, and in that genre I include things like Jerry Pournelle's "Janissaries" series. That's because the culture shock is what drives the story, and to me, doesn't make much difference if it's warp drive or a time machine or even a quantum string that gets us there; those are all equally never-gonna-happen-in-my-life things, and so it's the story, not the mechanics, that matters.
In some storylines, what makes the story is importing modern tech to a more primitive time. That's the case, for example, in Eric Flint's massive 1612 franchise. However, Jack does something different.
The advanced tech does impact the story. The first way is that Future People snatch dying people (Matt, in this case), regenerate them, and then stick them in a pre-human world.  However, they ONLY give Matt clothes, a knife, and a hatchet to take back with him. That's it. No ray gun, no steam engine, nothing.
And then it's up to Matt to survive. Now, just reading the story, I can tell that Jack was either a Boy Scout, or elite military, or maybe a survivalist, because Matt has a wealth of knowledge that helps him survive. And that's the SECOND way in which advanced tech impacts the story. It's his knowledge of how to use what is on hand, not gadgets, that make this story work.
People interactions are good. Matt encounters women, and there is a definite way this storyline could diverge into a sex romp, but it DOESN'T and I surely do appreciate that. (I already know what it is, how to do it, and that's good enough for me.) There are good guys, who don't want to kill others or enslave them, and bad guys who do. Big honken animals, mostly ferocious.
Get it and read it. And look for more.

"One Drink," by Max Florschutz

We were talking about Amazon reviews, and I went back and took a look at mine. They are too long, and probably getting ignored. That's because I've been writing my blog first, and then copy/pasting it over to Amazon.
See, I think one of the reasons people like my blog is because I put in a lot of interesting details, not related to the book. For example, last night I dreamed I was the President of the United States. It was a great gig! I could pick up the phone, and get ANYONE I wanted to on the line. Like WOW, man!
Then I realized how HARD it was to get to meet with a buddy at Waffle House for breakfast.
And then, I had to sign letters to families of men killed in combat.
At that point, it wasn't such a great job. And finally, I had to take immediate action on something, and then found out I had gotten bad information. If you are my age or a bit older, or perhaps a student of recent American history, the Gulf of Tonkin will be on your mind right about now.
Now, that has NOTHING to do with "One Drink," but it was interesting, wasn't it?
Well, here's something ELSE I find to be interesting, but this is only MARGINALLY related to "One Drink," and then, only because of the NAME of the author. It's a sixth grade issue, really. Mrs. Brown, if you are still alive, bless you, and by the way, you looked GREAT in that fuzzy sweater. And you have a lovely daughter, by the way. (See what I did, there?) (Umm, Herman's Hermits?)
Okay, the deal is that if a word ends with an S, and it is possessive, then you don't add an apostrophe and then an S, you just add an apostrophe. So, if the book belongs to Cass, it is Cass' book, not Cass's book. But I've got it in my head that this extends to other letters/dipthongs. Like sh. So if the book belongs to Josh, it is Josh' book. I've been told that is incorrect, and it looks goofy when I wrote it, but still....the thought is there. And other letters are sibilant. Like x and z. And so, I ascribe to them the same rule: if possessive, then apostrophe only, not apostrophe followed by S. So the book is Max' book, not Max's book. And it's Max Florschutz' book, not Max Florschutz's  book. and I don't know if that's right or not, and I don't care to look it up, but it impacts my blog writing, because I don't care to look stupidly ignorant over randomly assigned rules of grammar. They ARE random, too. Not a frappen thing about the English language is NOT random. It's just standardized. Could have been defined the other way; it's like the preposition at end of the sentence. That rule can BITE ME!
So, all of the above is strictly BLOG material, not AMAZON material. Nobody reads my blog by accident, but people DO encounter my Amazon reviews that way.
And in a minute, you get to read my  Amazon review. I do have an additional personal note, though, which is sort of related to Sarah's blast from the past called 'AutoImmune Diseases.'
Today, I am recovering from a goofy bout of insomnia. I finally slept last night, after three nights of sleeplessness, followed by a day of discomfort and naps. However, my body has decided it wants to kick my patoot, by making me hurt and goofing my stomach. So, I cannot claim that this particular blog meets my standards, although I think it's better written than anything else I have done this week. And now, here is what I wrote on Amazon:

Nicely done!
I thought I had reviewed this, because I had some conversation with the author about firearms. Unfortunately, that conversation came right before insomnia, and then I forgot, but:
If you are a firearms guy, you will NOT screech at errors here. That is SUCH a good thing. I'm so tired of stuff like having the hammer manually cocked on a 1911, or the safety clicked on a Glock. Max, you did a beautiful job!
The main character has a bizarre job: he's a boogey-man hunter. Still a bit of stigma on that, unfortunately, but he deals with it well. You know those books where the main character is filled with self doubt? This ain't one.
Lots of great action, plus detective work, and Max, you draw GREAT characters!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cyberbooks, by Ben Bova

This was NOT supposed to be my next review. Absolutely not! I owe at least two and maybe three reviews, depending on whether or not I have reviewed "One Drink" by Max Florschutz, and I forgot to check that a minute ago.
But I got ambushed. I hit the Baen website  just to see what was there, and saw this, and casually checked it out.


The book was published on 1/16/1989. Note that year: 1989. If it was PUBLISHED then, it was written in maybe 1987, maybe 1988. And it forecasts with SPOOKY accuracy some stuff about ebooks & their impact, nearly 30 years ago.
Okay, is that a big deal? Well, would you agree with me that the publisher who has MOST embraced ebooks is Baen? Yeah, that's right; they were WAY ahead of the curve on this. AND, the very, very first work that was published by Baen that was submitted to them electronically was a short story in the book 'Carmen Miranda's Ghost is Haunting Space Station Number Three,' and that was in 1985. So, would you then agree with me that only TWO years after the MOST ebook-friendly publisher had STARTED accepting e-submissions is pretty doggone early to be incredibly prophetic about ebook stuff?
I hope so. But let me give you a FEW examples of his prescient words. (Y'all ain't gonna BELIEVE this...)

This next is minor:
Instead of printing books on paper, you 'print' them on miniature electro-optic wafers, like the diskettes used in computers, only smaller. This device in my hand allows you to read the book. The screen here shows you a full page. It can show illustrations as well as printed material; in fact, the quality of the pictures can be made better than anything you can achieve with the printed page."
A bit more:
He touched the first keypad with his index finger. The screen sprang to life instantly, glowing with color to reveal the title page of Rain Makes Applesauce.
Carl let out the breath he had not realized he'd been holding in. It worked. It worked! He picked up the glowing box and offered it to Malzone, grinning. It looked much smaller in the sales manager's long-fingered, big-knuckled hands.
"What do I do?" Malzone asked.
"Just touch the green button to move ahead a page. Hold it down and it will riffle through the pages for you until you take your finger off. Then it'll stop. If you want a specific page, tap in the number on the little keyboard on the right." 
Another hint:
Sure, the reader—this device, here—is going to cost more than a half-dozen books. But once you own one you can get your books electronically. Over the phone, if you like. The most expensive books there are will cost less than a dollar!"
"Now wait a minute. You mean . . ."
"No paper!" Carl exulted. "You don't have to chop down trees and make paper and haul tons of the stuff to the printing presses and then haul the printed books to the stores. You move electrons and photons instead of paper! It's cheap and efficient."
For a long moment Malzone said nothing. Then he sighed a very heavy sigh. "You're saying that a publisher won't need printers, paper, ink, wholesalers, route salesmen, district managers, truck drivers—not even bookstores?"
"The whole thing can be done electronically," Carl enthused. "Shop for books by TV. Buy them over the phone. Transmit them anywhere on Earth almost instantaneously, straight to the customer."
WAIT+ gotta talk about the other stuff!
"Listen," Malzone said, his face growing serious. "I've been talking with my sales people, and I think you're in for some real problems."
"Yeah. Y'see, what you're doing with this Cyberbooks idea, basically, is asking the sales force to learn a whole new way of doing their job. It's kinda like asking a clerk in a shoe store to start selling airplanes to the Pentagon."
Carl felt puzzled. "But selling Cyberbooks will be easy!"
Malzone made a lopsided grin that was almost a grimace. "No it won't. My sales people are used to dealing with book distributors, wholesalers, truck drivers, bookstore managers. If I understand the way Cyberbooks is going to work, we're going to be selling directly to the customer."
"That's right. We eliminate all those middle men."
"You eliminate most of my sales force."
Just one more:
 "Eventually electronic books will replace paper books entirely, yes," replied Carl.
"I ain't worried about eventually," the old salesman said. "I'm worried about this coming season. What do I tell the distributors in my area?"
"As far as Cyberbooks is concerned, you won't have to deal with them at all. You can show the line directly to the bookstores. We can supply them from the office in New York, over the telephone lines, with all the books they want."
A hostile muttering spread through the audience.
"In fact," Carl continued, raising his voice slightly, "the bookstores won't have to order any books in advance. They can phone New York when a customer asks for a Cyberbook and we can transmit it to them instantly, electronically."
The muttering grew louder.
"In other words," said the old war-horse, "first you're gonna replace the entire wholesale side of the business, and then you're gonna replace us!"
Look, I'd really have to copy and paste the entire book to do this right. Do NOT take my word for it. Go to Baen and spend the five bucks to get this book. Then, read it.
And then I want all of you who are authors, publishers, whatever, to make BODACIOUS comments on this here book, and would you PLEASE tell me who the characters are supposed to represent? Is this just ALL made up, or is Bunker Books really Baen Books, and Webb Publishing  really Tor, or WHAT?

I got the book at Baen, but I'm reviewing this on Amazon as well. They don't have the ebook, which Baen has, but they have hard copy.

I normally write brilliant reviews, but in this case, the book speaks for itself, plus I have struggled with insomnia, so MY writing may be boring. I don't care, I HAD to clear this of before I wrote anything else.
So there....