Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Academic Magic. Book One, by Becky R Jones

A great good evening to all my friends and neighbors in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, DON’T PANIC! Yes, the LIBRARY is closed, but there are still lots of things to read online.

The cover art, and an Amazon Associates link. Click it, buy something, and I get a referral fee.

Zoe O’Brien, Ph.D., is a relatively new hire in the history department at Summerfield College, a smallish liberal arts institution located in metro Philadelphia. As such, she has the standard concerns of junior faculty everywhere: committee assignments (boring, tedious); teaching freshman level survey courses (boring, tedious); cranking out research papers (varies); living without tenure (moderately terrifying, in a diffuse sense); no romantic life (although that one guy is cute); caring for two obnoxious and demanding (but I am redundant) cats; hallucinating squirrel behavior (disturbing).

That last bit is new, and it is occurring exactly in the same manner as the other items don’t. Everything else is simply a slightly accelerated and enhanced (as in the cats) version of her life as a graduate student. Not the squirrels! Not only does she see them sitting in a circle, but one of them persists in waving at her. 
If only she didn’t have obligations! She could just leave, or check into an asylum, or something. However, she had not been able to resist buying a house near the school; thus, she is tied down. A bit. So, she resists engaging the squirrels, and she DEFINITELY resists talking to her colleagues about it.

Zoe is not ignorant of strange events (and she is no stranger to ignorant events), at least not of  historical strange events. Her concentration in Medieval European history gave her a strong foundation in the types of behaviors termed magical, as well as the reaction of surrounding societies. However, scholarly skepticism and a modern view of Life, The Universe, and Everything gave her confidence that what one age termed "witchcraft" was simply…something else. Her confidence already shaken by what she THINKS she saw, she is further challenged by the conviction of her closest friend Mark, and his husband David, that just because the belief is medieval, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Thus, when she discovers two squirrels waiting for her when she goes to work the next day, she braves the unknown, and speaks politely to them. And they return the courtesy, and make arrangements to meet with her, in her office. 
This is unbelievable! NONE of the squirrels I have experience with have EVER shown consideration for office hours!

I’m not going to tell you that her cats talk to her that evening, but her cats talk to her that evening.

All of this inter-species communication has a point: there is something that feels nasty about the main administration building, and the squirrels need her help. And so they come to a junior member of the faculty, non-tenured, and ask her to speak to her department head, and mentor, on their behalf; a person who will certainly have a significant role to play on whether she is offered a tenured position. So, she pulls out a double-barreled shotgun, and blasts them both into Squirrel Heaven, figuring that a firearms charge will have less impact on her future than interceding for tree rats with a senior faculty member
(No, she doesn’t do that. This story has no shotguns.)

What it does have is a lovely fantasy, spread over a very true-to-life depiction of a college campus. This happens to be something I know about, having worked in higher education for over seven years. Jones is spot-on with her descriptions of mind-numbing committee meetings and office politics. I think I may have even worked with one or more of the characters she describes. Thus, the story has a special charm for me.
Even those who haven’t spent much time in the ivory towers can find much to appreciate about this tale of an intelligent young prof, confronted by the impossible. Her conversations with her cats alone make it worth the read. Add in wicked witches, winos, wise wizards, and a whining woman-parent, and the alliteration will take you home.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Under the Earthline (Sons of Martha #3), by Laura Montgomery

Good evening, to all my friends and neighbors in Internet Land! And, to family members who have dropped by: “How could anyone ever be cross, with turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce?” 
I’d answer that, but since I’m already known as a GRINCH, never mind.

What follows is the cover art, AND an Amazon Associates link. Click it and buy something, and I get a few pennies.

Let me give you a small illustration of how I feel about this book:  A short while ago, I discovered that the latest episode of “The Mandalorian” had been released. I chose to review the book, instead of heading to the Disney Channel.

Four Preliminaries.

1. Background. This is the THIRD book in the “Sons of Martha” series, and to be properly understood, you must have read volumes 1 and 2. Let me put that in perspective for you: before I can properly enjoy the third kiss with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, I must first give her the first and second kisses. Montgomery’s words are kisses for the reader, lovely invitations to get to know the characters, and understand HOW and WHY they do the things they do. Trust me on this: you will not want to miss the first two books.

Now, PRIOR to the Sons of Martha, Montgomery published the three-volume Waking Late series, which is set on the same world. I don’t really think that you MUST read that series first, but it’s likely you will have to play some catch-up. The world of both series is referred to as NWWWLF, and acronym: Not What We Were Looking For. There are MAJOR difficulties with turning NWWWLF into a place that will support humans, and most of the explanation is in the first series. I’d recommend that you read that series, without a doubt, but you don’t HAVE to read it first.

2. Foreknowledge. Coming into this third book, second series, I quickly became aware of just how much more I knew about the situation than all of the characters, most particularly Thaddeus, the protagonist. Nothing for it; it’s like knowing that Anakin Skywalker is going to grow up to be Darth Vader. Even so, I wanted to reach into the world described, grab certain of the characters, and INSIST that they not go there and do that.

3. Suspense. Montgomery does not treat her readers to the draining experiences favored by an elderly gent with too many initials; namely to make a habit of creating compelling characters, and then defenestrating or decapitating them casually and frequently. However, she HAS killed mainline characters JUST enough that you can’t follow the story without some edge-of-your-seat time. It’s a feature; it’s not a bug. This is not the kind of suspense found in a cheap slasher movie, with cheap thrills provided by killers leaping out from behind the door. This suspense comes from not knowing whether the hero can pull his plan off, or will end the book incarcerated, alone, dead, or sent into exile without a towel.

4. The Bible and Rudyard Kipling. The series title, “Sons of Martha,” is taken from the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name. It addresses the hard workers of the world, the engineers and grease-knuckled doers, who devote their lives to making sure that the powerful forces of nature and industry are harnessed. Kipling took his inspiration from an incident presented in the 10th chapter of the Gospel According to Saint Luke, in which the hard-working Martha chastises Jesus for allowing her younger sister to ignore all the dinner preparations. Kipling pretends that all who serve others in dark, dirty jobs are the spiritual children of Martha, condemned to labor while others play.


The characters. All of the players on the planet are descended from people from Earth, but there has been some differentiation. The ruling class is descended from settlers on Mars, an outcome not anticipated by the folks who set out on the mission. Beneath them are the people who came from Earth, and that class is further divided into those with Earth-normal physiology, and those with enhanced strength and senses, distinguished by a pair of horns growing from their heads; these are called ‘pan’. 

Further divisions have been created based on where the characters live, with a mostly-urban class, the WestHem farmers, those who split off and started a second settlement, and the unfortunate Sleepers. This last division consists of the original colonists, who are kept in suspended animation, and revived one at a time, solely to provide their skill-set to further the work of the settled classes. Think of them as frozen yogurt; except without the power.

The story. In previous installments, Peter Dawes, a young pan farmer, grows more resentful of the government men who invaded WestHem, and disarmed the population. He develops a plan to steal the blasters back, but is forced by his tyrannical father to take his nasty-but-charming-to-some brother Simon with him. Simon is killed on the otherwise successful expedition, and Peter is labeled an outlaw by the oppressive governor and his cadre. To avoid capture and prevent reprisals against his family, Peter flees to the outskirts of settled land, where his oldest brother has a farm. Things happen, but the event of primary significance is the discovery of a new territory being developed by some of the more adventurous settlers. 

As the story opens, Peter’s older brother Thaddeus must respond to a request/demand by Dietrich Bainbridge, the governor’s chief agricultural officer. Ostensibly, Bainbridge wants Thaddeus to come advise him on agricultural policy, but the threatening tone used shows that he will be used in some way to atone for Peter’s actions, or at least be punished for them.

Maxwell, a friend and imitator of the deceased nasty-but-charming-to-some Simon, will also be going to the palace, where they will have contact with the beautiful Harriet, Maxwell’s cousin and target of Dietrich’s affections.

Despite my muttering “Do Not Go To That Treacherous Man, He Hates You And Has A Horrible Plan For Your Life,” Thaddeus proceeds, as he has managed to extract a promise from Dietrich that he can access the library, as well as the computer network.

And things develop.



Conflicts over class distinctions, and access to technology, provide the structure for the story, but the individual players do all the driving. This is NOT a gadget story; it’s a people story. The main characters become alive, as Montgomery gives us access to their thoughts, and thus, WE never have any confusion about the reasons for their actions. Sometimes they are confused about each other, a truth of human nature. It makes them real.


Again unlike the hyper-initialed gent, Montgomery ONLY leaves the overall story development unresolved, while closing out, quite nicely, the human interest conflicts and alliances that are the primary allure of these works. 

My conclusion.

I often find myself disgusted by the paucity of interest in the work of a gifted author, and that is DEFINITELY the case with Montgomery’s work. Her works should be on best-seller lists! It is probably an unavoidable consequence of the open field made possible by indie status and Amazon publication practices. In a field of hundreds of books, it’s tough to get noticed, even if a majority of the other works are dreck written by silly people who don’t know how to use punctuation, much less write a coherent and compelling story. 
I console myself somewhat by recalling that in decades past, when publishing houses had a stranglehold on what reached the consumer, an artist like Montgomery might have had nothing more than a few boxes of rejected manuscripts. At LEAST, her work is available, and I can but hope that at some point, she, and other talented writers like her, will get the recognition they deserve. It’s ONE of the reasons I write reviews.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Divided We Fall : An Anthology of One Possible Future; Tiffany Reynolds. Patty McIntosh-Mize eds.

A great good day, to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, it appears that one aspect of a joyful heart’s good medicine is that it provides resources to do the Next Right Thing, which is to finish this review. Also, this review is so long that I doubt that even the authors will read the whole thing. It doesn’t matter.

Editors: Tiffany Reynolds and Patty McIntosh-Mize. Kindle Edition. Published October 30, 2020.
Fourth Box Press

Preliminary and subjective comments.
I got the book via Kindle Unlimited before Election Day, but only started reading it on November 13. The experience was eerie and unsettling. Normally, when reading the type of books I prefer to review, I have little difficulty separating fact from fiction; this time, I had to bring myself OUT of the immersive reading experience, long enough to breath, on multiple occasions. I started writing this review on Monday, November 16, 2020; today is Tuesday. At this time, the winner of the 2020 Presidential election has not been determined.
I find that I am deeply troubled by these stories, in this time of uncertainty. I strive to be as apolitical as possible, so the name of the party holding power doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the horrible division I see between people of good faith that brings me to the verge of tears. If you should happen to read this some years from now, please remember: I am writing about near-future predictions that I cannot just toss out with the trash. This is my world, and the world of my children and grandchildren, I may be describing.

Preliminary observations about the work itself.
The book came was published on October 30, by a previously unknown publishing house: Fourth Box Press. Most of us are familiar with the expression “Ballots or Bullets,” most likely from two speeches given by Malcolm X in April of 1964. Earlier, other descriptions of the basis of liberty included speech and trial by peers. At some point, these were combined into the phrase, “the four boxes of freedom.” These are the soap box; the ballot box; the jury box; and the bullet (some use the term ‘cartridge’) box. 
Given the explicit anonymity of the first author, and the independent status of the two contributing authors I am most familiar with, I suspect that this is a one-time, special purpose press. Whether additional work will be issued under this mark, I have no idea.
Truly, I want the back story on this volume. The similarities of these stories with the actual events is quite disturbing. So, I would very much like an answer to this: What did the directors of this project know, and when did they know it?

The shared narrative.
A coalition uses fraud of multiple types, and steals the Presidential election on November 3. The coalition is composed of: 
1. Political machines, operating under the flag of the Democratic Party,
2. Controllers of news and social media, including print, broadcast, and streaming platforms, and
3. Ground level enforcers, consisting of political believers, anarchists and thugs Bad things follow.
At the time period covered by the stories in the anthology, it’s not clear which of the first two elements is actually in control of the coup.
More details are included in the first story.

Reviews of the stories.
My standard procedure for writing reviews of anthologies is to review each story individually. In this case, though, since the overwhelmingly dominant theme is in each story, I’m just going to highlight the particular aspect the story examines. I suspect that won’t allow me to praise the gifts each author brings to the story. For this, I am truly sorry. 

FOURTH ESTATE by Mack Henckel 
Victor Parker is a retired journalist, recording his version of the events much later. (NOTE: he makes a cryptic note about ‘the last 12 years” but doesn’t define what it is about those 12 that prompted his memoir. However, we can date this story to approximately 2042, as he states his career as a journalist began in 1992, and lasted 50 years.)
In detailing Parker’s opinion about which events leading up to the 2020 election. Author “Henckel” is able to infodump without being tedious. Not only does he lay a foundation for understanding the constitutional process of elections, he also documents Parker’s personal professional and political journey. The 2000 election coverage both lifted him to prominence, and gave him his first serious taste of distrust of the way the political AND reporting systems worked. 
I fear that much more “review” will cause MY word count to rival that of the author, so here’s my own infodump; it’s the essentials of the narrative, which are common to all of the stories. I’m NOT issuing a SPOILER ALERT, however, because this is strictly the sort of information that might appear on a book jacket.
On Friday, November 6, Trump concedes, stating that because the corruption was so widespread, it was impossible to fight. Shortly after Biden/Harris take office in January, Congress and the Executive Office act in concert to defund the police, and withdraw Secret Service protection for former presidents. Mobs pursue Trump and his family, and murder him as he tries to get on his private jet. 
The country collapses in chaos. The new powers  marginalize or even imprison their enemies. Some few pockets of resistance remain. 
All of the basic narrative for the anthology is contained in this story, which leads me to believe that if this ISN’T the source document, it is the first iteration of it. It’s also the only story with an anonymous author, and you may decide for yourself the significance of that information. 
The remainder of the story reviews will be much shorter.

SECRET COMBINATIONS by Brad R. Torgersen Confession: I have great affection for this author. He invented an entirely new take on the BEM, and he made the hero of his astounding first work an enlisted man who was NOT a SEAL / Ranger / Green Beret / Recon Marine / Delta Force, but: just some guy. He and I also share a deep and abiding love for beautiful wives who are MUCH too good for us. If he would just change his last name to something that only Scandinavian word-check software won’t report as an error…
His story centers around the actions taken by the new coalition to subvert any authority that does not submit to them. His example is that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but the story would fit for any of the churches that admit to governance by a Higher Authority than that dispatched by governments. 
This is NOT stretching a point beyond belief, by the way. At least one governor has issued standing orders prohibiting the free exercise of religion, based on the possibility of spreading COVID-19. 

DANGEROUS WORDS by William Dietrich Marine sergeant McAlister is in a tough situation. The platoon sergeant was arrested for political reasons, and whether out of natural incompetence or fear of being next, the remaining leaders appear to have just decided to go along and not make waves. Sgt. McAlister has an alternative online identity, that would send him to prison if discovered. He also has a respected father, an officer long retired from the Corps. And the rumor mill has it that they are about to be mobilized to police American citizens, in the US, and Posse Comitatus will not apply.
I had a hard time accepting the premise of this story. My own service was closer to 50 than 40 years ago, and not in the Marine Corps, but I just can’t accept that an entire command structure would fold in the way described here.

DELENDA EST by Leigh Smith A companion piece to “Dangerous Words,” this tells the story through the eyes of Ash McAlister, USMC LTC (ret), the father of SGT McAlister. Like his son, although neither knows it, he also has an online presence that would get him arrested. However, his problem is different: he has been reactivated, with the threat that his children will go into the system if he refuses. His orders state explicitly that he will be used in a police role. He has to decide how he may best protect his wife and kids.
A minor quibble: this story mentioned Posse Comitatus, and notes that the US Marines are not included in the original act. That’s true, as far as it goes. However, 10 U.S. Code § 275 - Restriction on direct participation by military personnel  specifically addresses this oversight. It affects the story not at all.

A COUNTRY BOY CAN SURVIVE by Julian Thompson Louisiana native Wesley has a day job and a calling; his day job is working on an oil platform, but his calling is to administer the land that has been in his family for generations. Some of it has low-producing oil wells on it, that nonetheless produce some income; most of it is farmed, or left for wild game. Except for his tofu-eating sister Sandra, all of his family appreciates a good dish of fried venison.  
When the regime changes, tofu-eating sister Sandra is going to present a problem.
I found these characters, and the way they acted in times of the crisis, to be emphatically believable.

THE STANDARD by Lea Valencia Noring Luke is a cop in a small town in south-central Georgia. Since that’s where I spent most of the first 19 years of my life, I’m pretty familiar with guys like him. Some of the other elements of the story, of a touchie-feelie  hippie-dippie way of doing things being forced on a southern town ring quite true. What utterly fails to ring true is the idea that the prep for the transition would have been initiated BEFORE the election took place. I could be wrong; after all, I left that area in 1972. Maybe it HAS changed that much.  

THE BALLAD OF BECKY AND KAREN by Jon Del Arroz I looked for reasons to show some mercy to this story, until I realized that was what I was doing. Frankly, if the author hadn’t made such an utterly uninformed series of statements about the recoil from an AR-15, I would have looked harder, and likely found something. 
However, his statements that the recoil from three shots kicked the stock into the protagonist’s jaw, dazing him and  almost making him pass out, with continued overwhelming pain, blah blah blah: those statements killed any mercy I might have had. Need to research my objection? Type “little girl firing AR-15” in your search engine. 
This isn’t a story; it’s a revenge fantasy, with the targets of the revenge being the mindless twits who think we all can live happily together if the white people just suck it up. Now, I’m not offering any sympathy to those twits; I’m just saying that if that IS a reason for this story’s existence, it’s the only one. And I’m glad that I was able to express that without any foul language.

SUPERMAX by Lee Thompson For reasons of their own, the clique in power decides to release a LOT of bad actors from prison. That actually might be a pretty good plan, in the case of prisoners who don’t represent a threat to the community. Bully, I say!
But you cannot apply that concept to the people who are found in the super maximum security prisons. Conventional incarceration could not stop them from killing. The guards and administrators know this to be the case, even if the powers controlling the pardons don’t. But, what are you going to do? Orders are orders.
I’m inclined to believe this one might be close to the truth, in the event.

FOR THE CHILDREN by Rick Cartwright Jack Payne is a pretty good mechanic in rural Tennessee. He’s a single parent, raising his daughter with the help of his neighbors and family, and he’s getting by as well as can be expected. He hopes the chaos he hears about on talk radio will confine itself to the areas around the cities. It probably would, too; except: books.
So much about this rings true; the story of his daughter’s birth is amazingly like mine. I can also testify to the natural reaction that local authorities have when people from upstream appear, and throw their weight around.

MARCHING ORDERS by Brennen Hankins Another story of conflict in the armed services under the new regime, this time in the Air Force. We have a solid set of operating instructions, coming from the base commander, Colonel Roy F. Lawson, upon the announcement of the Biden/Harris victory. The rules are: everybody is entitled to their opinion, but the President is The Boss, and everyone is expected to act appropriately while on duty. Yes, that’s the way it works; I’ve seen it work that way. It’s because of the Oath, and the nature of the people who take it, and take it seriously. The Oath does not imply that you will win, though. It does describe how you act until the end.
While I’m not sure that the people in leadership at the federal level could be quite as foolish as this story implies, I try never to bet AGAINST human stupidity. 

TEACH THE CHILDREN by Sarah Hoyt. This "Hoyt" person is an immigrant. Could she POSSIBLY know ANYTHING about American values, American culture?
Well, yes. Quite a bit, actually, if her literary output is any indication of her understanding. Not just the political end; she has a series about a greasy spoon diner that convinces me she understands my favorite restaurant, Waffle House. Somehow, her perceptions of American culture got her labeled as a white male Mormon, which generated a significant amount of tittering among her fans. Evidently, this diminutive woman somehow inhaled all of America that was good, including those parts not yet realized, and has been advocating the principles in her writing, without once having to resort to preachy language. 
Our unnamed protagonist and his teacher wife Maggie like to joke that they always cancel out each other’s vote during the elections. It’s not a big deal for either of them, although Mr. Maggie begins to wonder if he might get into trouble for being the more conservative of the two. The bottom line for both of them concerns whether they care for children as individual people, or as a social construct.

GOOD ON CAMERA by Kurt Taylor Although it’s evident from the story guidelines that the controllers of the news and social media are at least as responsible for the chaos and subversion of the legal processes as the various political machines, this is the only story that specifically addresses the culpability of talking heads and news panderers. 
The machines have forgotten to keep the food producers in production; perhaps this was something they never learned in the first place. At any rate, people in Nashville Who Matter (the members and hangers-on of the machine) are getting hungry, and they intend to confiscate food from the countryside areas, which are still in production. 
To make it work, though, it needs a sales job, and that’s up to the local news team, Friendly Bob and Flashy Tess, under the guidance of Shadowy Judi. They have zero problem with any part of the program, until they learn they are being sent out to go Live On Location! 
The event is preceded by four days of coverage, so the ignorant farmers will know to get the supplies  ready.

I said all that I needed to say in the Preliminaries; except to reiterate: this was a tough one to write.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tales Around the Supper Table: -An Anthology of Texas Writers. Collected by J. L. Curtis

The cover art, with an Amazon Associates link, so I get a few cents if you click the link and buy something:

I have encountered almost all of these writers via the long form, and can testify of their skill in that area. I have no explanation for the concentration of such talent in the Lonestar State, other than to note that some, at least, are Texan by choice, rather than by birth.

Despite their shared geography, these are not what you are probably thinking of as “Texas Tales.” That’s as it should be; even in San Antonio, where I lived in 1958 and 1972, there is a lot more going on than the Alamo and the River Walk. My firstborn son’s K9s for Warriors dog came from San Antonio, in fact.

So, no, don’t expect these stories to be stamped out with a Texas shaped cookie cutter. If they have any thing in common, it’s that all Texans are liars, I mean, tell good stories.

Pigmintum Regium, Alma T.C. Boykin. Your average author says “Marie was a dragon.” Boykin is NOT average. She tells us that Marie relies on long habit to keep from flaming a little, and that she she fists purple talons on a brown forefoot in frustration. Isn’t that lovely? The revelations of Marie’s attempts to produce a specified chemical reaction are also lovely, in that she SCIENTIFICALLY has to consider, and painstakingly document, any number of factors that we mundanes would never encounter. This isn’t merely a story; this is a cleverly constructed world, with humans and dragons fitting nicely into their defined roles, and working together to punish violators of the peace. 
If you want a story that ends with the knight rescuing a maiden from the clutches of a dragon, you may either go elsewhere, or, better yet, stay here. Have your view expanded!

 Caliborne’s Curse, Monalisa Foster. No one disputes that our basic needs are food, shelter, and clothing. Some choices are better than others, but it seems to me that the ‘shelter’ need is most likely to offer long-term issues. True, some food might kill you, but you can get reliable mediocrity almost anywhere. Shelter, though; a bad decision there can leave you in misery for a long time. Roaches and leaks are bad enough, but Mallory has moved into a house with some truly unexpected features. It only STARTS with a mysterious magic sword; there’s a vampire, a werewolf, it goes on. Fortunately, none of them make serious attempts to harm her, but these are just not acceptable variations for a home. So: get out of the contract. Wait, there’s more...

Business not Bullets, Dorothy Grant. Catriona pilots a small-time trade vessel that is keeping one small village alive. These are people related to her by marriage, and their loss of technology means that what Catriona is able to bring them keeps them, barely, on their feet. She wasn’t planning on making any changes to her trade routes, hoping that she can keep things going until a miracle happens. Her luck runs out, when a marooned naval officer asks to be taken on board. That’s only the first impediment to her plans, though. If she isn’t able to produce a working solution, everyone she knows will die.

The Invisible Train, Kathey Gray. This isn’t exactly a ghost story. It might be made into one, but as it stands, it’s just a story of discontinuity in time. Two brothers, Amos, 12, and Arthur, 9, tumble onto some very strange train tracks, and are transported back in time. Forget the paradoxes; that’s been done to death. This story is about problem-solving, when most of the problems are people. The fact that these problem solving folks are more the age (and manner) of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer just adds to the charm.

Runaway, Pam Uphoff. Another excellent short, set in Uphoff’s ever-expanding Wine of the Gods universe. Zodiac is on the run from his mother, a Not Nice Person who wishes to torture and destroy him; kind of makes you wonder about where she got her parenting advice from. He crosses over to a world very similar to the  timeline you and I live in (but not exactly the same). Over the course of his adventures, the number of people, places, and things he is on the run from continues to mount. Those include the local cops, the local criminals, the local peasants trapped into criminal activities, and even a local grandmother.
She’s a great cook, though. Truly hard to run away from that...

Starting Over, Peter Grant. This one is set in the REAL world, at least, that world as described by Peter Grant in the Ames books. After the Civil War, discharged soldiers return home to try to start over in a cash-starved economy. Tyler is one of these, although he has the good fortune to obtain some Yankee cash money. He uses that to finance a move of beef cattle from HERE, where they live, to THERE, where they can be eaten by hungry people. This one is a great read, not only for the adventure story, but for bringing alive the feel of the toughness of trying to create a living out of devastation. 

For a Child, Wayne Whisnand. Trip has special powers, which he hides so he doesn’t get killed, as most of his folk have been. He admits to himself that they usually deserved it, but Trip tries to live a better life. Bad people, who steal the child of one of his few friends, make that impossible. He can’t hide; he can’t stay out of trouble, and he just can’t stop people from looking at him with adoration in their eyes.

Bad Night in Falls Town, Lawdog.  I do not intend any dishonor to the Great State of Texas when I say that MOST of the stories I’ve read with this feel are set in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Chicago, Detroit, or New York City. New Orleans, maybe? They are NOT set in Wichita Falls!  (And there is a REASON for that!)
This is NOIR (!), at least to these old eyes and brain. I LOVE noir! Magnificent variations: 1. He’s not a Lone Wolf; he’s a Married Fox. BUT: he’s still willing to work for so many bucks per day, plus expenses, to help out a client. 2. All of the other hard-nosed PI types were easily affected by the pulchritude of the clients; not sure the “leather halter top attempting manfully – and failing miserably – to keep significant portions of her anatomy contained” will benefit this client. Married, remember, and wifey 

They Only Ever Send Just One, John Van Stry. I spent JUST enough time in San Antonio, at JUST the right age, to have some part of my systems respond to...TEXAS RANGER! The television series, I missed utterly; but, I’ve read enough stories of the old days and the modern days, some stark fact and some total fiction, for Emmet, the Ranger in this story, to stride right into my imagination. In his cowboy boots, which aren’t broken in.
I wonder why his boots aren't broken in? New boots. Hmmmm....
ONE of the great things about being a Texas Ranger is that you don’t have to start from the beginning with your average criminal, or with innocent bystanders; they KNOW what's going to take place. And for those criminals who don’t IMMEDIATELY fold their hands? Something bad might happen to them.

 Knights and Dragons, Jonathan LaForce. If I’m not mistaken, Crayon-Eating LaForce is the most junior member of the Texas team. GOOD DEAL! He is in for SUCH great training!
(Confession: I have a special love for LaForce. He and my firstborn son did the same things, wearing different uniforms, in the same conflict, and there were outcomes, and I am ever-so-frapping proud of them for coming back as well as they have. SO, feel free to laugh at an old man for some tears.)
LaForce invents a GREAT private investigator. Nero Wolfe was fat, and functionally agoraphobic; Ironside was (fat and) in a wheelchair; I can’t remember the name of the blind private investigator, but LaForce invents Hans Abney, a PI with an extensive background in uniforms who lost his voice to shrapnel. That ALSO permits him to invent Giselle, a sign-language interpreter who just happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, as his non-ditzy, dynamic partner. That OUGHT to give some better opportunities for developing plots; as it is, there is too much mental reflection spelled out. 
Another EXCELLENT aspect of LaForce’s world in this particular story is the ambiguous nature of the Bad Guy. Minor bad guys just look good, but are really bad; they are a dime a dozen. But: you get a Bad Guy who looks bad, but is really good? Writers have based a franchise on that character alone.  (But ditch the love scene at the end; it’s clumsy.)

A Favor Owed, JL Curtis. Oh, how I hope J L Curtis has more to say in this world! The characters have SUCH depth, it would be a shame to shut them down with just this little view. 
The old blacksmith is a good man, and I have no idea whether or not this is characteristic of the trade. I DO know that craftsmen who do excellent work are honored wherever they go, and the honor shown Lubec by his customers shows him to be one of those. And he has some magical access as well, in the form of a fire-breathing dragon(-ish).
It’s rather unfortunate, though, because his excellent past has caught up with him. This is not an ancient crime that chases him down; he has been pursued because he once gave a great gift. The Baron thinks it’s time for another one, and he has a point. But points need edges, and hilts, and flex, and strength, and none of that comes free.

1600+ words to describe 340+ pages; I'll take it. You will enjoy this read!

Peace be on your household.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Fantastic Schools, Volume 1, edited by Christopher Nuttall and L Jagi Lamplighter

A great good afternoon to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And to family members who dropped by, NO! This isn't horror, I don't READ horror!

Here's the cover art, followed by an Amazon Associates link. If you click the link, and then buy something, I get a tiny amount of money.  

I THINK I remember when the request for stories went out for this volume. I was rather intrigued, since I had been Dean of Admissions at a tiny, private,  non-magical school for a bit over three years, and I wondered if there was any way I could make a story out of my experiences that would fit in with the theme. I couldn't see it happening. But, who knows? There IS a story here about getting admitted; there is another story about the problems of budgets. 

For now, though, it is ENOUGH to read, and enjoy, which is what I did. I actually said to myself, "these stories are quite charming!" but I refuse to repeat that, because magic, charms, you know.

DO NOT!!!! skip the intro by Christopher Nuttall. He says some things that HAVE to be said, and it's just lovely to detach from some of the spider webs associated with literature that parallels this work. And along those lines, the title of my Amazon review (they posted it almost INSTANTLY!) is "If you mention H*** P*** or J K R***, I might slap you." There IS a tie in with his intro.

Here's my thinking about the stories, and what follows is contained in my Amazon review, and my Goodreads review.

“A Note From The Editor,” Christopher G. Nuttall. Oh, hurrah, hurrah! Some things truly needed to be pointed out explicitly, particularly for those who think everything worthy was invented this morning around half-past ten. Discover these for yourself, but I must cheer the point that there is an extreme pathology of boarding schools that has NOTHING to do with magic. 

“Little Witches” by Mel Lee Newmin. Anyone who has ever been affiliated with an educational institution knows the EXTREME importance of The Budget, and schools which are not supported by the state often must close their doors. Institutions of magic are not excepted. Loved it (but romance doesn't happen that fast).

“Path of the Phoenix” by Emily Martha Sorensen. I have heard that in some matters, if you aren’t cheating, you don’t deserve to win. I can’t testify to the truth of that statement, and whether or not Rulisa, our protagonist, deserves to win is up for discussion. However, she DID know what she was doing when she accepted enrollment in a school consequences are...intense.

“A Firm Hand” by Aaron Van Treeck. Some schools welcome you with a reception, including food and handshakes. Not THIS school. Clearly, their school is modeled on basic training/boot camp for a uniformed service. As a graduate of D-7-2 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, I can say that the only significant inaccuracy is that harsh treatment at this magic school actually has a training goal in mind.

“Asymptote at Three O’Clock” by Steven G. Johnson. For anyone who has EVER watched the clock, longing for release, this story will take that experience, and add another dimension. You see, time really does go slower, but not for the reason you think.

“Practical Exercise” by George Phillies.  I have found that education is a great leveler of differences. Well, that’s the way it appears, at least; those who maintain a fiction that their differences matter more, somehow manage to linger on for quite some time. A punch in the snoot would have done them some good, in their earlier years.

“The Ascendant Cup” by Thomas K. Carpenter. High-stakes testing is something that seems to bother adults and educators more than it bothers students, at least initially. Perhaps that is because they don’t recognize just how high the stakes are. This test: it can kill you. Our protagonist knows this, but sometimes the win IS worth the risk.

“Doom Garden” by Benjamin Wheeler. Warren G. Harding was a wizard. The gardener has a shotgun that never runs out of ammo. And both of those things are needed, because all gardens are not alike. I loved this one, particularly the fact that the point of view character is a......Methodist? No, that's not right...

“Crucible” by Frank B. Luke.  This is an intriguing world, in which those who work magic come in three flavors: Good, Neutral, and Evil. It’s not QUITE an accurate set of descriptors, though.  The subtle differences matter, because this test can be lethal.

“The Last Academy” by G. Scott Huggins. In the world of the mundanes, there is a huge drop-off between the number of people who enroll in the fall, and the number who eventually graduate. Why shouldn’t this be true with schools of magic as well? But, where would the drop-outs go? And what CONCEIVABLE use could they be?

“Finals” by Bernadette Durbin. The only people who like finals are those who have over-prepared, and a few instructors who are looking for a break from classes. Even those don’t want the routine to be disturbed. But sometimes, outside events trump academics.

“Metamorphosis” by Roger D. Strahan. Listen: just because your parents are monsters, and school is awful, that doesn’t mean that you get to go another way. That NEVER happens! Well, hardly ever. It would take a miracle.

“How To Get Into Magic School” by Erin N.H. Furby.  I spent 7+ years working in college admissions. I only was threatened a few times. But then, magic wasn’t a factor. This lad is a recruiter for a scholarship program. I think he needs to seek additional reimbursement.

“Deep School Tuition” by Denton Salle. Private school tuition is outrageously high, but there ARE those who can afford it. Even so, defaulting on loans is a really bad idea. So: make SURE you understand the terms of the contract before you sign it. And if they want you to sign it in blood? Should be a clue.

“Gennady’s Tale” by Christopher G. Nuttall. It’s rather an old tale: the fresh-faced idealist who toddles of to college, and returns as an obnoxious know-it-all. The rules at college are just DIFFERENT than the rules at home; everybody changes, one way or another.

I did not ENJOY reading all the stories at the same level, but that's because a couple of them dealt with subject matter that was uncomfortable, particularly the last one. That is NOT a reflection on the quality of the stories, which I found to be excellent. It's just a matter of taste. I recommend them all to you, and, with the exception of "Gennady's Tale," I would be pleased to have 14 year old Alicia Ann and almost 16 year old Kenneth read these, unsupervised. With "Gennady's Tale," I'd want us all to read it together, and then discuss it. I DO hope you understand that minor caveat.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Valley of Loss: Jim Cartwright—At Large, Chapter Two By Mark Wandrey

 A great good afternoon, to all my friends and neighbors in Internet Land. And to family members who have dropped by: fr I E nds, and n E I ghbors. I think that’s Weird. Or is it Wierd?

The cover art, followed by an Amazon Associates link. Click the link, buy something, and I receive small amounts of money. 

Preliminary Statement. I’m going to edit out all the ravings for my Amazon review, the entirety of which is contained within. But this is MY blog, so you get the ravings.

Raving One. This is a 36 page Kindle document, as it is currently formatted on my screen. How can I justify a LONG review, of a SHORT document? And yet, I am known for long reviews. Sometimes, that’s how I find them. I page rapidly through the Amazon reviews, my eye only caught by verbosity.

Raving Two. I picked this book up from Kindle on March 18, 2020. It’s now November 3. Any FRESHNESS my perspective may have given is long since stale. Heck, my memories of that time are stale. 

Raving Three, and the most significant, dealing with SPOILERS. Admittedly, I was sucked into a black hole of circumstances, just after I brought myself current on all of the related storylines, and thus I MIGHT be wrong, but: 


Now, for the reader, that likely only enhances the experience. Alas for the poor reviewer, though! We dast not violate the no spoiler rule in our reviews!

Over the next few galactic cycles, I plan to convene a reviewer council to come up with a comprehensive program. Until then, I plan to mask spoiler-sensitive material with some sort of snark. You’ll know it when you see it.

The review. This is all that's going on Amazon.

I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

Jim Cartwright, the youthful, obese but dieting commander of Cartwright’s Cavaliers, has a closely defined set of goals for his mercenary company. At the top of his list: obtain as many of the massive, ancient fighting machines, known as Raknars, and restore them to function.

While certain members of his team don’t quite understand the degree to which these devices inspire him, Jim can always count on his drop-dead gorgeous, passionate, faithful, and utterly committed girlfriend Adayn. Somehow, out of all the human females, she alone has discerned the bodacious hunk hidden inside Cartwright’s corpulence. 

Jim is also the recipient of support from his good buddy Splunk, a harmless and playful alien of limited intelligence; perhaps a savant, though, for somehow this miniature creature has been able to discover ways to harness the potential of the Raknar. 

Exciting things ensue.

This is a delightful background interjection into the main story lines of the Four Horseman Universe, and MUST be read that way. 

Well, that was the Amazon review. I hope the snark came across. 

Peace be on your household.