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Book Review – In the Shadow of the Cross

Lou Antonelli has gathered together a number of his short stories and published them as In the Shadow of the Cross.

Over a 15 year career devoted primarily to short science fiction, Lou Antonelli was unusual in that he accurately depicted the role of religion in people’s lives. In a nation and era when religion in general – and Christianity in particular – is being oppressed by the opinion leaders of America, Antonelli – who is a life-long journalist – depicted religion as it should be if political correctness in the science fiction field didn’t suppress it.

This collection gathers up stories Antonelli wrote over the years where Christianity plays a role. They range from down home and next door to far flung and in outer space. They remind us that despite the best efforts of a Godless material world, Christianity is a sturdy creed that remains a vital part of many people’s lives.

This collection touches on religion, especially Christianity, in a variety of touching and creative ways.  My favorite was “On a Spiritual Plain”, where a chaplain must learn to deal with the intersection of alien religion, death, and his own faith.  There is also a series of stories dealing with a world in which no one religion has gained dominance, which explores how a religion based on peace and forgiveness fares when mixed in with equally fervent believers in religions that are not quite as peaceful or forgiving.

I burned through this book in a couple of hours, but the stories kept me thinking for days afterward.  It’s a good summer read, and if you’ve enjoyed Antonelli’s other works or are looking for thoughtful, well told stories, I think you’ll like In the Shadow of the Cross.

Book Review – The Stones of Silence

Peter Grant has started a new series set in the same universe as his excellent Maxwell Saga, called “Cochrane’s Company”.  Its first book, The Stones of Silence, is a great read.

The secret is out – the Mycenae system is the hottest new mineral find in the spiral arm. Now it’s about to become ground zero in a gold rush by every crooked company and asteroid thief in the galaxy.

Andrew Cochrane, with his crew of the finest veterans and cunning rogues, have an even better scheme. They’ve conned the owner into hiring them as a mercenary security company to defend the system. With no oversight but their own, Cochrane’s Company plans to seize the richest pickings for themselves.

But nothing ever comes easy. If they want to keep their loot, they’re going to have to outwit and outfight every smuggler, bandit and renegade after the same prize – and their boss, too!

Stones of Silence spins the tale of how a group of people come together to create a new space-based security enterprise, and the conflicts that arise as they work to secure their first contract and make their fortunes.

Grant is a consumate storyteller.  If you’ve enjoyed his Maxwell and Laredo series, you’ll love this one.  He takes his time to flesh out his characters and their world, while at the same time weaving a story full of intrigue.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Book Review – Bite Sized

Holly Chism, proprietress of the Godshead Tavern, has started a new series call the Liquid Diet Chronicles, and the first book, Bite Sized, is a real treat!

Meg Turner has been a vampire for twenty years. Her favorite food is rapists. Which is how she met Andi Donahue, her new best friend/ girl Friday.

And then the nightmares start. And the bodies start showing up–bled out and raped. Just like Meg was. They don’t have a whole lot of time to stop the killer before he strikes again, and only one way to stop the killer.

But how can Andi help Meg stop a killer she can’t even see?

Chism’s greatest strength as a writer is her ability to get inside her characters’ skins, and she hits the mark with Bite Sized.  Meg is a young vampire who’s had to learn everything on her own, and she has a pentient for thinning the ranks of those who prey on their fellow human beings.  By the end of the first chapter, she is a vivid, well-formed character that makes you want to read the next page and the page after that.

Other characters, especially Meg’s friend Andi, complete Bite Sized as they race to find and destroy a killer.  The story is fast paced at times, but Chism takes time to give her characters time to breathe and be human.  Well, mostly human, but it’s a vampire story, so you take what you can get.

I’d recommend Bite Sized for the beach or the lake house, or for an evening in front of the fire.  I’m already looking forward to the rest of the series!

Review – Grasping for the Crowns

Alma Boykin returns with the second installment in her “The Powers” alternate history series: Race for the Crowns.

In 1916, war has swept the entire world, along with famine and riot tearing countries apart from within and without.

István Eszterházy, now the Head of Hungary’s House Sárkány, struggles to lead its men, women, and True-dragons alike through the shifting tides of fortune, even as the Habsburg Empire is staggered by England’s treachery. While hunger and defeat stalk the streets, the Powers beneath the land grow poisoned and maddened.

When the spirits of the land attack each other, and rebels plot to destroy his House, István must fight not just for his own survival, but for his entire family!

Boykin’s style is easy to read, and her historical and cultural research are spot-on.  I found myself unable to put Race for the Crowns down, even though it is not a thriller or an action story.  The characters introduced in the first book blossom in the second, and I kept turning pages trying to learn more about Istvan and his family.

The author does an excellent job painting a picture of an empire in flux.  Boykin illustrates this as the main character navigates through the hardships, heartbreak, and frustrations of an old world transforming into something new.  I found it very easy to envision the places and people that populate her work.

If you like gentle alternate history, historical fantasy, and well-paced, character-driven stories, Race for the Crowns will be a great choice for you.

Review – Normalcy Bias

Holly Chism’s new collection of short stories, Normalcy Bias:  Look closer… things aren’t always what they seem to be, is a delightful selection of tales that try to show the reader that they can’t always trust their eyes.

 

Look closer. The things that you’re assuming you’re seeing? May not be what you think. Is that really a mouse, or is it a Brownie? Is that really an owl? Is that polished gemstone a stone…or an egg?

We take so many things for granted. Some of them may be harmless, but many are a lot less so. I wonder how many people ignore red flags every day, because they only see what they expect to see?

This collection takes what’s “normal” and asks “What if it’s something more?”

From the wee folk to the children of the night, and everything in between, Chism shows us that sometimes reality is twisted just a few degrees from what we expect.  Sometimes, the world shows us a mask and sometimes it just shows us what we expect to see, but the reader is shown worlds where paying attention to the little details can make big differences.

Chism works hard to bring her characters and settings to life, but does not drag out her stories to do it.  This is a quick read, but the stories give the reader a lot to ponder.  I was left hoping that she will come back to each of the worlds she creates in these stories and expand on them, because they all came to life very easily as I went through them.

Normalcy Bias is an excellent book for an evening in front of the fire or a day at the beach, and it is definitely appropriate for anyone from teenagers to senior citizens.  It’s definitely going on my “read again” pile.

Book Review – Detritus

Holly Chism has published a new tale of redemption, perseverance, and family, Detritus.

Nick Bryant was a junkie. Lived on the streets, and everything. And then, he saved a baby girl from drowning, and fell into the role of protector. As he, the baby, and her older brother get to know one another, he decides that maybe, there’s more left to him than the drugs, and decides to try to live again. And maybe build a family.

Chism’s main character, Nick, is on the ragged edge of a slide into oblivion, but then he commits a selfless act that changes his life and those of the people around him.  The smile of a little girl and the trust of her older brother bring him back from the brink and help all of them heal and grow to be a family.  Joined by an adopted grandmother, Nick takes the children in search of a better life.  Along the way, they are helped by good people who shine a little light into their dark world.  In the end, Nick learns that love and forgiveness, of yourself and of everyone else, is the greatest gift of all.

Chism shows the power of her storytelling in Detritus, and I’m not ashamed to say that it moved me to tears on at least one occasion.  She develops her characters quickly, but in a way that you don’t notice until they step off the page in front of you.  Her story moves fast, and you will find yourself unable to put this one down. It’s not an action story, but it definitely grabs hold of you and makes you want to know what happens on the next page.

I recommend Detritus for anyone who needs a story of growth and redemption, or who enjoys tales of folks making their way back from the shadows.

Audiobook Review – Galaxy’s Edge

Galaxy’s Edge, co-written by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole, and narrated by R.C. Bray, is a fast moving, action-packed story that will have you sitting in the car to listen until the end of the chapter.  Here’s the blurb:

On the edge of the galaxy, a diplomatic mission to an alien planet takes a turn when the Legionnaires, an elite special fighting force, find themselves ambushed and stranded behind enemy lines. They struggle to survive under siege, waiting on a rescue that might never come.

In the seedy starport of Ackabar, a young girl searches the crime-ridden gutters to avenge her father’s murder; not far away, a double-dealing legionniare-turned-smuggler hunts an epic payday; and somewhere along the outer galaxy, a mysterious bounter hunter lies in wait.

Galaxy’s Edge combines sleek starfighters, exotic aliens, loyal bots, blasters, scoundrels, heroes, and powerful enemies in a thrilling adventure that will take you back to that magic place from a long time ago.

The Galaxy’s Edge audiobook includes the stories from the first two books in the series, “Legionnaire” and “Galactic Outlaws“.  The story grabs you with its first line, and when you hear the last words, you will immediately want more.  Anspach and Cole have plotted out an interesting, engrossing, and exciting yarn that just keeps coming at you.  This is an action story, but also has an excellent thread about the meaning of good and evil, and how men and women have to find their place between the two extremes.  But most of all, this book was fun, from the first word to the last.

Bray’s narration is spot on.  His voice characterizations and pacing is excellent.  He didn’t belabor the more intimate, person to person scenes in the story, and neither did he rush through the action scenes.  It’s not often that I plan on re-listening to a story, but Bray’s work on Galaxy’s Edge puts it on that list.

If you’re a fan of military science fiction or space opera, you’ll enjoy Galaxy’s Edge.  It’s a fun, engrossing story that kept my attention and left me looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Book Review – Under A Different Sun

J.F. Holmes has started a new space adventure series, starting with the thoroughly entertaining and engrossing first book, Under A Different Sun.

Here’s the blurb:

In the near future, massive empires rule the stars, and west of the Reach, they are battling for control of new systems. In the no-mans land between the front lines, Captain Nate Meric and the crew of the privateer Lexington fight for prize money, and loyalty to their ship and their friends. Beneath it all, though, runs a hidden dream. To see America restored, and take her rightful place among the stars.

If you were to ask me what the overall theme of this book is, I’d have to use a line that kept popping up in my head as I read it – The light that shines in the darkness burns brightest. A crew of dedicated, hard fighting professionals fights to claim their next prize, keep each other alive, and work toward the restoration of their nation.  Through its pages, we meet Nathaniel Meric, captain of the Lexington and privateer in an interstellar war.  His crew, made up of humans from all nations and several people from other species, is well thought out and easy to visualize as you go through the story.

The plot is, well, space opera, but it grabs your attention and keeps at you until you come to the last page.  It’s an easy read, but forces the reader to think about concepts such as loyalty and freedom.  I’m also giving Holmes extra points for being the first space opera writer I’ve ever run across who didn’t go into detail about how the faster than light (FTL) drive works.

Holmes is an excellent storyteller, and Under a Different Sun is an entertaining, engrossing yarn. It mixes mil-scifi with space opera, and tells a quintessentially heroic, human story.  I definitely recommend it to fans of Heinlein, Drake, or Grant.

Book Review – Appalling Stories: 13 Tales of Social Injustice

David Dubrow, Paul Hair, and Ray Zacek have come out with a collection of short stories dealing with the impact of social justice warfare on normal people, Appalling Stories:  13 Tales of Social Injustice.  Here’s the blurb:

With political correctness gobbling up the culture like a fat kid on his sister’s quinceañera cake, where do you go for quality, old-school entertainment?

Appalling Stories focuses on themes and characters you’re just not supposed to read about anymore, using social issues as the setting, not the plot. Inside, you’ll read about a disturbing erotic resort that caters to an exclusive clientele, a violent Antifa group biting off much more than they can chew, a serial killer with a furious inch, and a lot more.

The authors find message fiction as tedious as you do, and traditional publishing seems intent on shoving favored narratives down readers’ throats. This anthology pushes back against PC moralizing, bringing you story above all else. Are you going to let Social Justice Warriors dictate what you can and can’t read?

Consider this your trigger warning.

Each of these stories deals with a ‘ripped from the headlines’ scenario, including the legal quagmire of a Christian baker faced with a gay couple, transgenderism, and sanctuary cities.  A wide stripe of politics runs through these stories, but, for the most part it, doesn’t get in the way of telling the story.

I read through Appalling Stories twice.  The first time, each scenario seemed to be a worst-case-scenario for each of the subjects the three authors examine.  But during the second reading, I noticed that I was thinking of real-world examples of the things they were showing us.  Yes, these stories are rough, even brutal at times, but they show a ‘what might be’ look at the issues that are slashed across our news feeds and nightly broadcasts.

Like most good anthologies, a lot of these stories beg to be expanded into longer works.  My favorite of the 13 was “Detainer,” by Ray Zacek, in which the protagonist deals with death in a sanctuary city.  It was the one that seemed closest to what you could see happen in the morning news, and it certainly leaves you wanting to know what happens next.

Again, this is not a book for readers who want a comfortable read, and it is definitely not for young readers.  But Appalling Stories is a fast, engrossing collection that will, whether you agree with the authors’ points of view or not, get you thinking.

Review – The Last Closet

Moira Greyland has published The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon, the story of her upbringing in what can only be described as appalling circumstances.

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

This is not an easy book to read, but that is because of the subject matter, not the writing. The fact that the author has been able to survive the horrific circumstances of her early life is uplifting on its own.  I have known folks who went through abuse, both as children and as adults, but nothing I have heard or seen prepared me for the images this book put into my head.  Greyland has the good taste to not go into minute detail about the sexual aspect of her parents’ sexual abuse, but what she did share will shock and horrify any decent person.  She also paints a vivid, detailed picture of the physical and emotional abuse heaped upon all of her parents’ victims, not to tittilate, but to inform.

Throughout the story, and especially as I read the appendices that included testimony from lawsuits in the late 1990’s, as well as reports of an earlier scandal involving her father from the early 1960’s, I kept thinking to myself “Why didn’t someone step in?”.  Greyland’s story reinforces the duty that adults have to speak out when something seems wrong, and to not accept those things that bring harm to the defenseless.

This is definitely a book that I will recommend to others, but it’s not a casual read.  Greyland grabs you and doesn’t let go.  She doesn’t use tension or action to do this.  Rather, her candor and courage in telling this tale draw the reader in, helping them to envision the places and situations that she and others endured.

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