an odd collection of tales about learning to do the impossible

Bulb

My Review:

In Bulb, Bradley Wind has created an unusual and thought-provoking look into the future. It poses plenty of relevant questions about today and about the choices we’re making.

What I liked best:

1. This is a genuine attempt to describe the future, not a story set in our own world with more rocket ships and robots in the background. The author makes the valid point that if you asked a human from ten thousand years ago to describe the year 2020 they wouldn’t have enough information to even imagine our society. Bradley Wind has tried to make this leap into an unimaginable future, and he has succeeded in creating a disturbing and unexpected world that seems normal and even inevitable to those living in it.

2. His writing packs a punch.

3. This could have been a one-good-idea book. The concept of the archives is so different, and so chilling, that it would carry a fine story. However, Wind is just getting started when he lays out the concept of everyone being able to view everything everyone else has ever done.

What I liked least:

1. The pacing is erratic. I do think the way the book is written has an overall artistic effect, but one has to get through it to appreciate the artistry, and this is not an easy book to finish.

2. Item three above is somewhat of a two-edged sword. This story throws so many radical ideas at the reader that overload is likely. Yes, you can have too much dessert, and too many things to think about in too short a time. I’d recommend reading this novel over a period of several days, if not more.

3. This last part is subjective and I always wonder whether personal preferences should be included. Yet, no matter how well done something is or isn’t, we all have own tastes and they effect our reading experience. So, I’ll be blunt. I didn’t enjoy reading this book.

I’m easily bothered by blood and gore, disturbing rape scenes, disgusting behavior, detailed descriptions of bodily functions, deformities, mutilations and you get the idea. I’m not a good date at a zombie movie and I don’t watch horror flicks. But … Bradley Wind can’t seem to stay off of these topics. His descriptions of the lives of two saints (people who voluntarily stay in a coma to keep the system running) were so over the top they nearly stopped me from finishing the story.

It’s important to note that I’ve read other novels I didn’t enjoy, and yet which I’m glad I read. (Did anyone actually enjoy reading 1984?) The truth is, we don’t only read for fun. We read to understand new points of view. We read to have our imaginations expanded and our empathy increased. We read to think more and to feel more and to grow.

So, I recommend this book to (1) people who enjoy dark and disturbing speculative fiction, and (2) to those willing to read such in order to be exposed to ideas they’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else. Trust me, this book is full of them.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see https://dtothepowerof4.org/2020/02/03…

Because I’m an introvert who sucks at social obligations (see the two posts mentioned below) I’m looking into ways I, too, can be a good literary citizen. I’ve identified three problems, three solutions and three dangerous traps I have to avoid.

This is about the third of these three.

A Problem:

Like most (maybe all?) people driven to write novels, I grew up reading dozens of novels a year for fun. College classes slowed me down a little, but not much. Likewise, marriage, children and a full-time job only put a dent in my addiction of choice.

It took writing books myself to bring my favorite pass time to a complete halt. And I’m still sad about it. Turns out I can do almost anything and read all I want, except write.

I’ve already written about how I use (and enjoy) flash fiction to stay current in my genre. And I’ve written about how I follow a limited number of blogs and online groups, trying to be supportive of them while refraining from comments.  I make an effort to stay away from others all together.

Today, I’m considering the rare times I do read a novel these days, and why.

A Solution:

Most of my reading today is done for blog tours, providing reviews for others like me, trying to gain attention for their self-published or small indie press published works. I’m sympathetic to their aims and I try to be positive in my reviews, while still being honest. Often the books aren’t chosen because I’d choose them off a shelf, but rather because they are available for review.

I’ve discovered there are genres I need to avoid.  I already knew I lacked the gene to appreciate true horror novels, or anything grisly or gross. Now I know not to sign up for anything with the word romance in the description. (I’ve nothing against romance in real life, I just prefer my plots to be less predictable.) Recently I’ve learned to be careful choosing YA novels too. I’ve enjoyed some, but they need to be pretty special before I get emotionally involved in teenage troubles.

“Then what do you read?” you may ask. Good question, as I’ve just eliminated a lot of  what’s written. I do like crime novels, science fictions, and most fantasy. (It can get too dark and grim for me out on the edges.) If I stick to this, I find I generally enjoy any reasonably well-constructed story and can say something good about it. That’s nice for me. It means I got to read a book. And it’s nice for the author. They got one more positive review.

The Problem with the Solution:

To be honest, reading to write reviews doesn’t feed my addition. It doesn’t fill some longing deep in my brain. Why?

I read these book the way I used to read assignments in school. I skim and I skip and I barely touch down, just enough to render a fair review, the way I used to do when I had to produce an adequate paper.  Yes, I often enjoy the story, but not the same way I enjoy a leisurely immersion in another world.

And, the truth is, these are often authors still early in their own learning curves. Even though they’ve accomplished the remarkable feat of producing a full-length, coherent novel, they often have habits I want to avoid, not emulate.

To write better, I decided I needed to read better as well.

Recently I’ve started allowing myself to take short vacations from writing, to read a carefully selected novel. I’m turning to award winners, to those books highly recommend by friends and to stories whose descriptions call to me for one reason or another.

I have two rules as I read these books. Well, actually three. The first is to take my time and enjoy the book. The second is to keep my eye out for ways I can grow as a writer. (No, the two tasks don’t seem to be mutually exclusive.) The third is to write a review of these books as well. Even acclaimed authors can use a little a more praise.

Next up for me? Recursion by Blake Crouch and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow.

I know I’m not the greatest literary citizen with these few techniques, and I never will be, but I am managing to produce my own fiction while no longer groaning every time someone mentions being “a good literary citizen.” I’m willing to call it achieving a balance.

You Kill Me

My Review:

In You Kill Me, Holly LeRoy has written an exciting thriller with a wonderful protagonist, unexpected characters, and a page turner of an ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

What I liked best:

1. The writing is quite good. The pacing is flawless. The plot is exciting. I know that should be three different things, but I don’t want this list to get too long.

2. In particular, LeRoy takes several characters out of Central Casting and uses them in ways I didn’t expect (and you probably won’t either.) The annoying boss. The sleazy ex-partner. His stripper girlfriend. And more. The whole story is a wonderful reminder of how surprising people can be.

3. I often struggle with stories that mix a first person tale with additional third-person POVs. LeRoy not only makes it work, he makes it seem natural. Part way into the story, I stopped noticing it.

4. Ditto for his descriptions of people and surroundings. Over and over he gives just enough details to put you in the scene and never so much that you start to skip over it. Well done.

What I liked least:

1. It’s obvious I liked a lot about this book. However, I prefer to read on my Kindle and when the author didn’t offer Kindle formatted copies for review, I bought the book and was surprised by the number and kind of typos in the copy for sale. Every book has a few, but this not only had more than its share, many of them were things any good proofreader (or even spell check program) would have caught. This book is too good for those kinds of mistakes.

2. I like my endings (that is, the part after everyone is finally safe) to be longer than a page or two. I’ve come to care about these people and I want to know more after many of them barely make it out alive. Perhaps there is more tying up of loose ends in the next novel?

Well, whether there is or not, I’ll be seeking out more by Holly LeRoy, and wishing him and his detective Lt. Sharpe both long and healthy careers,

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see You Kill Me.

Gods of Merlin

My Review:

In Gods of Merlin, Priya Ardis has written an action-filled adventure likely to appeal to teenage fans of the fantasy genre.

What I liked best:

1. I’ve got a fond spot for females who get to be the chosen one (for once) and I found Eowlyn to be particularly likable. I rooted for her from the start.
2. I’m a life long fan of the many variations of the King Arthur tale and it was fun to see it given a new twist.

What I liked least:

1. I thought there were too many parallels to a certain famous story line with a likeable orphan who mysteriously ends up at a British school for magical kids where those with wizards’ blood look down on those who don’t have it.
2. I found some sections too grisly and others too confusing (particularly flashbacks of Eowlyn tangling with other main characters in other times.)

I would recommend this book to young people who enjoy fantasy and particularly to fans of Harry Potter or King Arthur who are looking for more of what they love.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Gods of Merlin

Once Upon a Time, Bitches

My Review:

In Once Upon a Time, Bitches, Branden LaNette has written a fast-paced, funny book so good you will hardly realize you’re being given advice to improve your life.

My own advice to you is to (1) read this book, (2) laugh while you do it and (3) wake up the next day with your life a little better on track. Then (4) buy a copy for someone you love.

Best things about this book:

1. It is solid advice told in funny and entertaining way.

2. There is just enough about the author to make you like and believe her and not so much that it becomes all about her, not you.

3. This should only be a 100 page book and guess what? It is.

4. Her humble I’m-no-better-than-you-are-at-this-shit approach is endearing and convincing.

The worst things I can say about this book:

1. The foul language is a shock. It reminded me of the musical “The Jersey Boys.” I spent the first minutes thinking wow, I didn’t know people could use the word fuck that many times in a sentence. Then I got used to it and loved the show. In a similar fashion, by about 10 pages into this book, I loved it, too. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had to acclimate first.  

2. There is no giant revelation here, but that’s not the author’s fault. There really isn’t one to reveal. We know the secrets to a good life are the easy-to-say and hard-to-do things like take responsibility, forgive others, and love yourself. I struggle to do these things on a good day, so I certainly benefited from hearing them again, and appreciated them being stated so bluntly.

So, who would I recommend this book to?

Anyone who happens to be a human. Others need not bother.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Once Upon a Time, Bitches

 

 

Murder: Double or Nothing

My Review:

In Murder: Double or Nothing, Lida Sideris has improved on what she does well, and softened some of the rougher edges in her second novel. She has once again written a clever and funny story to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries.

What I liked best:

  1. Once again, this is a witty, fast-paced book with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader engaged. As an added plus, who doesn’t like to read about Hollywood?
  2. The protagonist, Corrie Locke, not only has a new law degree, but she seems to be a more capable crime solver than before, and a little less inclined to break laws without consideration of the consequences. I liked this more mature and capable character.
  3. I liked what has happened with the other characters, too. Love interest Michael is more lovable, high-fashion mom is more likeable, and Corrie’s sidekick Veeda has become more of her own person (and far less a clone of Stephanie Plum’s sidekick Lula.)
  4. The author continues to do a noteworthy job of ending chapters so that the reader just has to keep going.
  5. Plus … both Sideris and her creation Corrie really take their game up a notch in the suspense filled ending. Corrie shows her best yet as both a fighter and as a detective, and Sideris delivers a taut page-turner of a finale.

What I liked least:

  1. I still struggled with not feeling up to speed on Corrie and her fascination with a competing love interest, Michael’s best friend James. Clearly, there is history here and it matters. I wish I knew what it was.
  2. Witty and fast-paced can be overdone, and in my opinion Lida Sideris’ style at times would benefit from more transitions to add flow to the story. While her dialog and plot developments are never quite as jarring as in the previous novel, in its worst spots this book becomes a series of actions scenes and flippant one-liners in need of more connection and motivation behind them.

However … as with the previous book, the power of what I liked absolutely exceeded what I didn’t. In fact, I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor and I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a fun mystery.

For the full blog post including my review of Lida Sideris’ second book Murder Gone Missing  as well as more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Murder: Double or Nothing

Because I suck at social obligations (see the post right below this one) I’m looking into ways I too can be a good literary citizen. I’ve identified three problems, three solutions and three dangerous traps I have to avoid.

This is about the second of these three.

A Problem:

Engaging in chit chat stimulates many people. Some find it relaxing, others create better when they feel less alone. Most conversation happens to drain me, but the online kind is particularly exhausting. People can and will say any old stupid thing from the safety of their computer, and the conversation just keeps on going.

Please, please don’t make me respond to any more people on Facebook, or try to sound witty or important on Goodreads, or, you get the idea … I really don’t like this. And yet, online is where most of the conversation is happening.

A Solution:

I’ve found online forums and blogs that I find worthwhile, and you can do the same. There are  amazing sources of information online for writers. What you will find useful is different than what I will, but we can all seek out what speaks to us. Then read, enjoy and support them.

One of my favorites is a blog called Mythcreants. Self-described as “Fantasy & Science Fiction for Storytellers” it offers a wealth of ideas for avoiding common writing mistakes and I’ve been reading it for years. I still have a link to Four Tips for Depicting Disabled Characters, a post I reread several times as I developed Violeta, my telepath with an old judo injury that forced her to walk with a cane. I like to think she was the better for the fine advice I was offered. Another post entitled Why We Shouldn’t Be Fighting Over Trigger Warnings convinced me to add trigger warnings to the descriptions of two of my books.

I’ve recently come to enjoy Fantasy Book Critic and have been following along with their reviews as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. This has given me the chance to read detailed analyses of what other self-published authors are doing, sometimes along with interviews of the authors. While I think this keeps me more in touch with what is happening out there, I do need to be careful. Sometimes too much reading about how great other books are can leave me discouraged about my own. There is a balance to be struck.

What to Avoid:

My kryptonite in this arena is clearly comments. I’ve learned to stay away from them. Do not engage. I’m not all that quick about these things, anyway, so by the time I read a post, dozens of people have already expressed themselves. Even I did have something interesting to add, it’s usually been said, and often several times.

I do like and follow the blogs I enjoy, and try to do the same for the writers providing the material. There are other ways to provide support, too. Some places ask for donations. I donate. Some get mentioned in my own posts, some on twitter. It’s possible to spread around appreciation without getting drawn into a conversation. For me, that’s the way to do it.

.

I suck at social obligations.

Three Myers Briggs tests have found me to be an off-the-chart introvert, and my abilities as an empath once made me fear I was secretly from Deanna Troi’s home planet. It’s not a great combination. If I have to go somewhere, I soak up everything around me and it leaves me drained.

This doesn’t mean I can’t function around people. I’m practiced at faking normality. (Aren’t we all?) What it does mean is if I have to deal with people for very much or for very long, I can’t write.

The first time I heard the phrase Good Literary Citizen, my heart sank.

You see, I agree with the principals behind the idea, but I’m horribly suited to putting them in practice. Over the years, I’ve found three avenues that work for me, at least in limited quantities. I’ve found corollaries of these that have the capability to be my kryptonite. This post covers one set. (Two more posts are coming.)

A Problem:

I’m from the US. Put me and a handful of other Americans in a room full of Brits and I’ll be the first one to start talking with a slightly British accent and I won’t even notice it. Yes, I have my own voice, but it’s as mutable as everything else about me. If I’m not careful, I write like the last person I read.

A Solution:

Read short things by different people, and read lots of them.

I’ve become a great fan of flash fiction. My genre is speculative, so I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction. Most days they send me a story of 1000 words or less. Some are brilliant. Occasionally one is sort of dumb. Every few days I read several of them at once. This keeps me current on themes and word choices floating around in my chosen genre, without any one author getting too deeply into my head.

Sometimes, DSF lets readers vote for stories they like. I do this to support authors who impress me. I also seek them out elsewhere and follow them or list their works as “want to read.” It’s my way of giving them a quick thumbs up before I move on to my own writing. (I also save their stories to reread and inspire me to write better.)

What to Avoid:

I avoid long novels by others, and I will not let myself get involved in a series. Not now. Not me. I can read all those great series out there when I retire from writing. I’m looking forward to it.

I also avoid authors with too distinctive of a voice. There’s nothing wrong with them; in fact some of them are great. They just aren’t for me right now. Again, someday …

As a result (1) I’m generally writing, (2) I generally sound like me, whatever that is, (3) I’m not completely out of touch with what is happening in my genre and (4) I’m doing at least something to support other authors.

I think it’s a win-win-not lose situation. Given my constraints, I’ll take it.

(This post was originally published on my blog Face Painting for World Peace, which focuses on themes like empathy and telepathy.)

Harvest

My review:

Harvest by Olga Werby is an incredible book on many levels. The thought and research that has gone into this story is breathtaking. The descriptions of nanobots gone amok are chill-inducing. The affection between the father and daughter is heartwarming. And the plot moves at a pace that makes it almost impossible to put down. What more could you want?

I love stories that tackle big ideas. You know, the meaning of life, the universe and everything. This book has no shortage of grandiose themes. In fact, my only two complaints are both artifacts of this. One, the book touches on so many major themes that it has to simply let some of them drop. Two, with a scope this big, it is hard to find a satisfying end to the story. Heck, it’s hard to find any end to the story.

Without giving anything away, I’ll just say I was a little less than satisfied when it was over. Then again, I don’t know of another book of this cosmic sort that has managed to come to a better conclusion.

Did I like it anyway? You bet I did. I’d recommend this novel to almost anyone, and certainly to anyone who enjoys science fiction. This is hardcore sci-fi that is both well-written and emotionally solid, and that’s no small achievement. It will leave you thinking for days (maybe for weeks or months, I don’t know yet because it’s only been days since I finished it ….) And even if you’re a little bewildered or uneasy at the end, I believe you will have thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

For the full blog post giving more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Harvest.

Free on Kindle thru Dec. 1

Layers of Light is FREE on Kindle thru Sunday Dec. 1 at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I58T5FU.

The nice people at Amazon let me give away copies of my book once every 90 days, so what better time than thanksgiving weekend to offer it for FREE .

My hope of course, is that you will download the book, and then read it. In fact, my hope is you will like the book so much that you actually go ahead and buy one of the other books in the collection. Hallelujah!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  For now, just DOWNLOAD THE BOOK.  Let’s see what happens after that. 🙂

Why do people review books?

Damned if I know.

For most of my life, the only time I’ve reviewed anything is when I really didn’t like it. In fact, I had to not like it so much that I felt it was my duty to steer people away. This didn’t happen often.

When I thought something was great, I was never motivated to suggest others buy, use or visit whatever it was. Not unless I was asked. Then, sometimes I wrote a positive review just to be nice.

Basically, this means I don’t understand reviews. Or reviewers.

Read more at Why do people review books?

One of the challenges in writing Flickers of Fortune was to convince my readers that investing in the stock market could be dangerous, exciting and sexy. My thesis, if you will, was that much of the machinations behind the worlds wealth goes on behind the curtain of the world’s largest casino — known as the various stock exchanges. And if you don’t think handling money, lots and lots of money, is dangerous, exciting and sexy — well you’re probably not paying much attention to why things go the way they do.

Read more at Computers are taking over your 401K. Should you care?

Rich and Gone

Rich and Gone by W.F. Ranew starts off with a great title and it goes to on tell an interesting and complex who-dun-it story spiced with lots of genuine southern flavor and the occasional bit of big money intrigue.

Things I especially liked:

  1. All the financial sleuthing, and the impressive research behind it.
  2. An older protagonist who trusts his hunches, is tech savvy, and who is finally having a love affair with the woman he’s yearned for, for forty years.
  3. Great descriptions of Florida and Georgia, and even better descriptions of the food and drink of the south

Things I struggled with:

  1. Too much background information about minor characters, especially those introduced late in the story
  2. A graphic sex scene between two minor characters and a graphic murder showing the homophobia involved — both scenes seemed out of place and gratuitous, as they were unnecessary to plot or character development
  3. Several cases of the protagonist figuring something out, or his future self chiming in about finding useful information, and then not telling the reader what the tidbit is

Even though the story didn’t quite fire on all cylinders for me, it’s a well-crafted crime novel with plenty of complexity and surprises. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys this genre.

For the full blog post giving more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Rich and Gone.

 

Viable Hostage

Viable Hostage by Audrey J. Cole is a tidy, fast-paced medical crime novel sure to please fans of this genre. Unfortunately the book and I were not a good fit.

What I liked best:

  1. I love reading books in which the author knows her subject matter well. Ms. Cole clearly brings a lot of medical expertise to her writing, and a knowledge of the Seattle area to this novel.
  2. The book is well-paced. It moves seamlessly from crime to solution and delivers enough of the unexpected to be satisfying.
  3. There is a diverse and interesting cast of characters, and a quite likeable main character.
  4. Multiple points of view (particularly that of the killer) are done well, and provide suspense without giving away the ending.

What I struggled with:

  1. Some of this novel is downright grisly and I happen to be a reader who shies away from such things. In fact, I’m so squeamish I don’t even want to hear about medical details. So, while I admire Ms. Cole’s expertise, I’d steer those of my ilk away from this book.
  2. I felt the book would have benefited from more character development in general, and especially more depth surrounding the main character. She appears to be a fascinating young medical student, yet we learn almost nothing about her other than her devotion to her missing friend.

I do, however, recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys stories that live at the intersection of solving crimes and of performing medical research. I think this is a tough place to write with both accuracy and suspense, and Ms. Cole is to be commended for doing both.

A personal note:

Why did I pick this book to review? Well, my own book One of One is about a young woman who is taken hostage and rescued by women who care about her. I’m always looking for kindred spirits, writing-wise, and this seemed to be about something similar. Cool, I thought.

Even though the book didn’t quite turn out to be about what I thought, I do think it is good to get out of your comfort zone and read different types of things.

Also, I received a free electronic copy of this book, which would never be enough to make me write a better review for anyone.

For the full blog post giving more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Viable Hostage.

Making a Boxed Set

The delightful artists at Deranged Doctor Design have created a beautiful boxed set cover for my first three books (and they made this lovely banner, too!) I got it as part of a promotional package, which is interesting because I had no intention of turning my collection of six ebooks into boxed sets.

Now ….. I’m busy reading instructions on how to concatenate the first three novels together into one document so it will work well for my readers. Lucky for me, there are lots of helpful people out there and it doesn’t sound too hard. This boxed set should be available soon!

I’m sending particular shout-outs of thanks to Kim Lambert at the Alliance of Independent Authors for her extremely helpful and detailed article “Why, When and How to Self-publish a Box Set of Ebooks.”

I’m also sending a big thanks to Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn for her excellent post “How To Create An Ebook Boxset Or Bundle And Why You Should” and to Tom Ashford for his article  “How to Create an Ebook Box Set” on the Mark Dawson’s self-publishing formula blog.

The degree to which self-publishing authors continue to share information and help each other never ceases to amaze and impress me! It is a community I am proud to be part of (even though I dangle my participles in my enthusiasm.)

The Calculating Stars

Hugo award winning author Mary Robinette Kowal doesn’t know anything about me …. so it’s not possible she understood that when she wrote “The Calculating Stars,” she was writing the one book I could not possibly resist reading.

Perhaps she was aware of the many women of my generation and older who can still remember the landing on the moon, and the fervor afterwards with which so many people wanted to go do that, too. Yet, some of us knew we couldn’t, and we thought that fact was terribly unfair.

Star Trek was exploring strange new worlds back then, and they had room aboard ship for my idol Lieutenant Uhura, and for whatever female ensign Captain Kirk had his eye on that week. Jane Fonda’s Barbarella struck me as more silly than admirable, but at least she was in outer space, too.

So, after after careful consideration, I bravely declared to my mother that I wished to become an astronaut. She looked at me curiously, like perhaps I possessed some troublesome quality she hadn’t been aware of.

“Find a more realistic ambition,” was all she said. I never brought it up again.

When I was little, my father flew small planes. Yet, he seemed every bit as puzzled as my mother once was, when years later I told him I had started to take flying lessons. I was out of college by then, making okay money as a technical writer. This is what I wanted to do with those earnings. I thought he’d be proud.

“Okay ….. ” was all he said. Before long, he sent me all his study manuals on flying, with a simple note. “If you’re going to be a pilot, be a good one.”

Learning to fly is expensive. Much as I loved it, I clearly was never going to be a commercial pilot, much less an astronaut. I moved on to other, more realistic dreams.

Then, decades later, along came this book.

It’s not just about women in space, it’s about women my mother’s age getting to go. Give me a break. How does this happen?

Oh. The blurb says a meteorite hits the earth and threatens to destroy all life. That’s what it takes to get women in the 1950’s into the space program? Maybe ….

Forgive the long preamble, but I felt I ought to explain why, by the time I was on about page 20, this had become my favorite book of all time.  A little context can be helpful.

Now, for a more objective look.

Pilot and mathematician Elma York is well qualified for the space program and she wants to join it. Author Kowal recognizes the difficulties of creating a character with a brilliant mind who is also a highly skilled aviator, is beautiful, is well liked by her family and friends, and who has a loving husband as talented as she is.

Kowal gives her an Achilles heel to balance out her many gifts and to make her goal of getting into space more difficult. On occasion I thought she took this “little problem” a bit further than was believable for a woman who had accomplished so much, but it did work to make the plot more interesting, and to make Elma a more believable human.

She also chose to give her an ethnicity (Jewish, right after WWII), which I thought was interesting but it was never really pertinent to the story. Perhaps it ties better into the previous short works, or it will tie more into the sequels?

Much of the beginning of the book has to do with the meteorite and it’s aftermath. This part is chilling, and incredibly well written. I could hardly put the book down.

The second part centers on the accelerated space program being developed to help save humanity. Here Elma York encounters the sexism of much of the military, but she also faces the ingrained, even almost silly sexism of the time period. (Astronettes? Really?) It rings true.

Luckily, she is surrounded and supported by a strong group of women, many of them fellow pilots and quite a few of them also women of color, who are facing a whole different set of unfortunate biases a well. All the women have a handful of male allies (including Elma’s husband) and, to no ones surprise, eventually they all prevail.

Kowal accepting the Hugo award

Kowal does try to bring in details about how her society reacts to the climate change brought on by the meteorite, and in doing so she obliquely addresses our own society’s struggles with abating climate change. She doesn’t hit you over the head with the comparison, and it adds a nice bit of social consciousness to the story.

The book is suspenseful in that the reader wants to see Elma go into space and wants to learn how she does it. However, it lacks any large plot twists or deep philosophical ideas. (Both of those are things I love in books.) So I have to admit this is more of “just a fun story” about talented and good people getting to do what they ought to be doing. It’s a cheer along book, but instead of being about a little league team or some such thing that doesn’t interest me, it’s about women getting to what I always wanted to do. So. I really enjoyed cheering along.

Read the introduction to this series of reviews at Reviews: Giving Them

Free through Monday!

Storms are in the air. Flickers of Fortune always makes me think of lightning.

The nice people at Amazon let me give away copies of my book once every 90 days, so what better time than now to offer it for FREE .

My hope of course, is that you will download the book, and then read the book. In fact, my hope is you will like the book so much that you actually go ahead and buy one of the other books in the collection. Hallelujah!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  For now, just DOWNLOAD THE BOOK.  Let’s see what happens after that. 🙂

(Flickers of Fortune is available for free from Nov. 7 through Nov. 11 2019.)

The Maine Nemesis

The Maine Nemesis by R. Scott Wallis is a crime novel set in New England, seasoned with plenty of small town intrigue and a lot of great cooking. You’ll absolutely want to have lobster for dinner before you are done reading the book.

Things I especially liked:

  1. This is a well told story with a large cast of characters, all of whom have plausible and detailed pasts. The small town drama and the individual struggles ring true. Some of the back stories are pretty sad, actually, but they are realistic and they roll well into the greater plot.
  2. I always find it fun when two female friends team up to accomplish something. The friendship between Skylar and Brenda, her childhood-friend-turned-cooking-show-celebrity, is the centerpiece of this novel.
  3. The description of the food will put five pounds on you just reading it :). Seriously, it’s that good.

What did I struggled with?

One thing, basically, but it was a big thing. I tried, I really tried, to like the main character and her best friend, but while I appreciated their friendship, they seemed like two rich, spoiled, and shallow women inserting themselves into a local crime scene while complaining about how miserable it was to travel first class on a commercial airlines instead of by private jet.

I’m sure there are those who’d find Skylar and Brenda glamorous, and would enjoy their adventures all the more for their airs, but they didn’t work well for me.

None-the-less, I appreciate the author crafting a complex mystery and skillfully placing it in a setting that was fun to explore. I recommend the book to anyone who likes to read about amateur sleuths.

Find the full post, with more information about the author and the blog tour this review was originally part of, at The Maine Nemesis.

Read the introduction to this series of reviews at Reviews: Giving Them

Dragon’s Revenge

By the time I finished Dragon’s Revenge by C.J. Shane, I loved it.

The author attempts something difficult, and that always intrigues me. She mixes an almost abrupt telling of a modern day detective story with a lyrical, sometimes even meandering, historical document from a century earlier. At first the combination is jarring, but before long it sort of becomes hot and sour soup, or fried ice cream if you prefer. However you think of it, it works well and the rich tale she has woven from the two very different pieces captivated me.

Nearly half the book is a love story between two immigrants, one Italian and one Chinese. It’s told beautifully through the eyes of her young son, and it is both touching and believable. The prejudice shown to so many ethnicities will make you want to scream, and will possibly force you to take a hard look at some of today’s behavior, too. (At least I hope it will.)

The other piece of the story involves PI Letty Valdez helping a friend solve a murder that occurs in a university library. Of course the investigation quickly becomes far more complicated, with Letty in danger, a few tantalizing red herrings emerging, and a tie-in to the century-old love story. Ultimately, there is a satisfying ending with more than one unsavory sort getting what unsavory sorts deserve.

Letty Valdez is a wonderful character, as are most of the people who populate her life. In fact, one of my few criticisms is that perhaps too many of them are a little too wonderful. A tad more nuance and the occasional trace of a fault here and there, would probably have made the story stronger. Yet, I much prefer the direction Shane errs in to the other alternative: a story filled with alleged heroes no one can like or root for. I plan to download more Letty Valdez mysteries to my Kindle.

I readily admit that a reading experience is a combination of the skill of the writer, and the interests of the reader. Author Shane tells an interesting tale, and she tells it well. Her story also happens to intersect well with me. I’ve done a fair amount of research on immigration laws for my own writing and practically jumped out of my seat when I read about the Chinese exclusion act. I share the author’s apparent passion for social justice and her love of desert sunsets. And I practice qi gong (a relative of gong fu referred to often in the book.) So, while this is a novel I think anyone could enjoy; it is fair to disclose this is one book I could hardly have kept from appreciating.

Find the full post, with more information about the author and the blog tour this review was originally part of, at Dragon’s Revenge

Read the introduction to this series of reviews at Reviews: Giving Them

Justice Gone

Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr. is a powerful book. It is difficult to put down even when it is difficult to read.

I was most impressed by the author’s unflinching determination to tackle a complex and emotional topic. He does do without glossing over anything or anyone. The research is impressive, the pace is relentless, and so much of the book defies expectations and surprises the reader.

This novel tears into the problems facing vets returning from war, any war, and it offers no platitudes or easy solutions. Rather, it invites empathy for the many characters struggling to do their best. Even for those for whom Lombardi has little sympathy (members of the press, a DA striving to enhance his career) there is a sense that these people are merely playing their given role in society. The real evil, the real villain, is war itself, and the author doesn’t see an easy solution to that problem.

I did struggle with the gore. In fact, the violence at beginning almost kept me from reading on, but by the time I was halfway through I was so glad I hadn’t quit. The large cast of characters is daunting, and the changing points of view were sometimes difficult to follow, but otherwise this novel is nearly flawlessly executed.

While it is hardly an uplifting book, it’s not a depressing one either. There is nobility in the struggles of the various characters. The second half of the book, with its court room machinations, even has a little humor mixed in with its staccato-like legal proceedings. Finally, there is enough justice in the end to not leave the reader hopeless.

I like a book that teaches me things, and a book that lets me see the world through points of view I will never have. I like a book that makes me think. Justice Gone does all of these in a compelling way and I recommend it highly.

Find the full post, with more information about the author and the blog tour this review was originally part of, at Justice Gone.

Read the introduction to this series of reviews at Reviews: Giving Them

Reviews: Giving Them

I’ve been doing more book reviews lately. It’s a fun way to get out of my own head for a while, see what others are doing, and hopefully help other writers as well. We all want reviews.

I do try to be both gentle and positive. Writing a book is hard work, and putting together an interesting and cohesive novel is a real accomplishment. I find it amazing how many people manage to do this every day. Who says our society is becoming illiterate? Some days I wonder if more people are writing books than are reading them.

So, kudos to all authors. This is not an easy thing you have done!

I don’t have much respect for reviewers who make rude remarks to get a laugh, particularly those who don’t write books themselves. I’m inclined to encourage all sincere attempts at creativity — be it musicians, fine artists, or writers.

Writers have a particular handicap, though. It takes far longer to read a book than to listen to a song or study a sketch. The reader will be investing some serious time, even if they give up on the book. So, it is reasonable for a potential reader to want to know if this story is really worth the hours they will likely spend with it.

That means it is important to for a review to be honest. I never like everything about a book and I’m sure you don’t either. Yet Amazon is full of reviews that make almost every book ever published sound perfect. Come on. We all know that isn’t true. Who writes these things?

The function of a review is to help another reader decide if they should read this particular novel. The most helpful thing a reviewer can do is point out what they enjoyed most about the book and what gave them the most heartburn. There’s no reason not to do it with kindness, but it still needs to be done. A review entirely lacking in criticism isn’t a review, it’s an advertisement.

Disagree with any of the above? Feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to discuss it with you.

A series of posts on the seven books I’ve reviewed recently will follow . Please enjoy, and if any of them sound like your cup or tea, please check them out.

Over the next several days I’m going to share posts written during my recent trip to UAE and Oman.

The opulence in these two recently built, oil-rich countries is astonishing. Their precarious location in the Persian Gulf gives one pause. And the interactions between my travel group (mostly retired women from the Washington DC area) and the locals who dealt with us (mostly young Muslim men) provided material for dozens of posts. Most remain unwritten. I hope over the weeks ahead that will change.

I’ve Seen the Future, and It’s 8 Time Zones Away

Imagine what a US city would be like if it had been built from the ground up after 1960, and had an unprecedented amount of wealth poured into its creation?

World class public transportation, all fully automated? Wide, well designed streets? Sparkling tall buildings?

You’re describing Dubai, and Abu Dhabi as well.

Read the full post at I’ve Seen the Future, and It’s 8 Time Zones Away.

Find my other posts about this trip at Having Lunch in Dubai for World Peace, We All Just Want to Have Fun, and Not a Country of Immigrants. I hope more will follow.

Over the next several days I’m going to share posts written during my recent trip to UAE and Oman.

The opulence in these two recently built, oil-rich countries is astonishing. Their precarious location in the Persian Gulf gives one pause. And the interactions between my travel group (mostly retired women from the Washington DC area) and the locals who dealt with us (mostly young Muslim men) provided material for dozens of posts. Most remain unwritten. I hope over the weeks ahead that will change.

Not a Country of Immigrants

 

Citizens of the USA are almost all immigrants and their descendants. Were this not so, only Native Americans would hold citizenship here.

The United Arab Emirates is not a country of immigrants. For the most part, only the descendants of native Emiratis may hold citizenship. Those who move there will never fully belong, and neither will their children, no matter now many generations their ancestors have been there. As a result, about 80% of the population of the UAE consists of expats.

Read the full post at Not a Country of Immigrants.

Find my other posts about this trip at Having Lunch in Dubai for World Peace, We All Just Want to Have Fun, and I’ve Seen the Future, and It’s 8 Time Zones Away. I hope more will follow.

Over the next several days I’m going to share posts written during my recent trip to UAE and Oman.

The opulence in these two recently built, oil-rich countries is astonishing. Their precarious location in the Persian Gulf gives one pause. And the interactions between my travel group (mostly retired women from the Washington DC area) and the locals who dealt with us (mostly young Muslim men) provided material for dozens of posts. Most remain unwritten. I hope over the weeks ahead that will change.

We All Just Want to Have Fun

If you’d asked me how much drinking liquor was tied into to my idea of having fun, I’d have said “not much.” And I’d have been wrong.

It took going all the way the United Arab Emirates to realize it… The country belongs to the more open-minded part of the Arab world, and it aspires to be an international playground. Tourism is an important part of its economy. The UAE wants you to visit, and wants you to have a good time while you are there.

Read the full post at We All Just Want to Have Fun

Find my other posts about this trip at Having Lunch in Dubai for World Peace, Not a Country of Immigrants and I’ve Seen the Future, and It’s 8 Time Zones Away. I hope more will follow.

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