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Book Review – Intensely Familiar

Alma Boykin continues the story of Lelia Chan and her Familiar Tay in Intensely Familiar.

Home is the Hunter . . .

Something moves in the darkness, hunting the hunters. An ambush leaves Lelia Chan weak and troubled. Her husband André returns from an extended deployment with problems of his own, some old, some new. Both shadow mages and their Familiars need rest. Their enemy, however, does not.

Magic solves magical problems: that’s the rule among Riverton’s magic users. But what if it doesn’t? Especially against a foe who is Intensely Familiar.

Intensely Familiar starts with a punch to the gut and keeps you reading until the last sentence.  Like the rest of the series, it is a character-driven tale with fast, intense action sequences. It’s not a thriller, but it keeps your attention through good story telling and pacing.

Lelia Chan is wholly fleshed out by now, but Ms. Boykin continues to let her grow and evolve without forcing the character forward.  Her husband, Andre, is also well done, but we are still learning about him as a central character in the story.  Other characters, such as her employer, Arthur, round out a cast that we can all relate to.

Intensely Familiar ends a multi-book story arc and hints to more in the future.  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where Ms. Boykin takes her characters.

Review – Forget Nothing

Michelle C. Meyers and Jason Anspach teamed up to explore the life one of the more intriguing characters in the Galaxy’s Edge series.  Their work pays off big time in “Forget Nothing

She Chose the Hardest Way

The daughter of a Legion war hero, fighting was in Andien Broxin’s blood. But the battles Republic marines face on strange and alien worlds are a far cry from the vaunted, brutal, no-holds-barred conflicts fought at the edge of the galaxy by the elite legionnaires.

Until a devastating war erupts right in the Republic’s stellar backyard.

Newly stationed on a mid-core planet being harassed by terrorist revolutionaries, Andien and her fellow “hullbusters” find themselves right in the middle of a desperate fight for survival. All their training, standards, discipline—all the hard paths—have led to this. If she and her fellow marines are to come out of this alive, Andien will have to find out who she truly is…and what she can become.

We first met Andien Broxin on Kublar in Legionnaire, the first book in the series, and the character became more and more important to the series in later books.  She’s tough, talented, and dedicated to her mission.  Forget Nothing takes us back to when Andien was an officer in the Republic Marines.  This female warrior is capable, but believable. Yes, she kicks ass and leads from the front, but she’s not a cartoonish GI Jane who beats up grown men and has a pithy comment to spit out over their prostrate bodies.

Meyers and Anspach wrote this character in a way that reminds me of the best leaders I have known, regardless of their gender.  She pushes herself constantly, but the characters has limits that push back.  She’s experienced, but has things to learn as the story goes on.  She’s brave, but is written in a way that you can feel her overcoming the shock and fear of combat.

The other character that stood out in the story was Gunny O’Neill.  If you’ve ever known an old, crusty NCO who was a master at motivating his troops with sharp comments and wry wit, you’ll recognize him immediately.  I laughed long and hard at some of his absolutely genius dialogue.  I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve heard some, but not all, of it before, because it’s been directed at me.

Forget Nothing is well-paced, and Khristine Hvam’s narration is almost 100% spot on.  The story flows through several sequences that flesh out Andien Broxin as a person and an officer, then rushes into several excellent combat sequences.  The character is allowed to make mistakes, then struggle to overcome them.

If you’ve enjoyed the other books in Galaxy’s Edge, I think you’ll enjoy how the authors filled out this character and gave us a good understanding of her backstory and how she’s put together. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Andien.

Review – Going Ballistic

Dorothy Grant puts out her best work so far in an action and character driven piece entitled “Going Ballistic

When her plane tries to come apart at apogee during a hijack, ballistic airline pilot Michelle Lauden handles the worst day she could imagine. After getting down without losing any passengers or crew, though, she finds her troubles have just begun!

The country she’s landed in has just declared independence from the Federation. The Feds intended her passengers to be the first casualties in the impending war – and they’re not happy she’s survived to contradict their official narrative in the news.

The local government wants to find her to give her a medal. The Feds are hunting her to give her an unmarked grave. As they both close in, Michelle’s running out of options and time. The only people able to protect her are an accident investigation team on loan from the Federation’s enemies… the same enemies who sent her hijackers in the first place.

And they have their own plans for her, and the country she’s in!

Going Ballistic weaves a strong female lead into a fast-paced, engaging plot that rarely stops to take a deep breath.  This story grabs you by the throat and keeps your attention until the last sentence.

Mrs. Grant’s ability to bring characters to life in a very small number of words makes this story move along without creating cardboard-cutouts.  Michelle is strong and capable, but also has the emotional depth to fall apart when she needs to.  Blondie, one of the male supporting characters, is there to help, but it is Michelle’s story and Grant leads us through it with a practiced hand.

Going Ballistic is great for laying in a hammock on a summer day or by the fire during a winter night.  Just make sure you have time to read it through, because you’ll be trying to guess what comes next until you can return to it.

Review – Rimworld: The Rift

Jim Curtis returns to his Rimworld universe and takes it in a whole new direction in The Rift:

Danny Ortega was a failure. He couldn’t tolerate the implant to be a starship captain…

But Danny Ortega has run his deep space research vessel Ghost alone for years, flaky AI and all, mapping the most unstable and unexplored regions of the Rift for the Cartographers Guild. When his latest mission lands in a mass graveyard of ships, including some ships out of legend, lost for hundreds of years, the guild isn’t happy with him.

He picks up a misfit crew out of the asteroids and the games begin!

Turns out he’ll need them not just for research and salvage, but to help him keep his ship! As word gets out that he has artifacts and is returning remains, Danny finds he’s gone from chasing a prize to becoming one himself…

Unfortunately for his enemies, Danny didn’t get his own ship by being an easy target or giving up. His odd connections and crew have plenty of surprises up their sleeves, too!

The Rift is a much more detailed, character-driven story than the other books in this series. While there is action, Curtis took his time and developed the main character, Danny, from a loner to a leader, from a lonely man to one that learns the meaning of family.

That’s not to say that the story moves slowly. This is a page turner crafted by a master storyteller. The plot rolls smoothly off the page, with believable and engaging twists and turns. I found myself losing hours to this book as I kept reading just one more page.

Unlike a lot of books in an already established series, a new reader could pick up this one and enjoy it. It resides in the same universe as Into the Green and Militia Up, but don’t inhabit the same space.

The Rift is definitely recommended for summer reading, especially if you’re in the mood for something different.

Audiobook Review – Gods and Legionnaires

Nick Cole and Stephen Anspach return to their foundational Savage Wars trilogy with Gods and Legionnaires:

The Coalition is reeling. New Vega and its other worlds have fallen beneath the boot of the newly allied Savage marines, and the death count continues to rise at a staggering rate. One thing is clear: The war to come will be a fight for the very survival of the species. For both sides in this conflict, now is the time to become what fate, and victory, demand.

The Savages – post-human monsters who believe themselves to be gods – are intent on remaking civilization in their own violent and pathological image. Yet their alliance is tenuous. Among the many tribes of the Uplifted, as they call themselves, the struggle for supremacy rages on. All know that in the end there can be only one tribe. One leader. One truth.

Meanwhile humanity’s last, desperate hope is the formation of a new kind of fighting force: The Legion. Those select few who are hardy enough – or foolish enough – to undertake the relentless, grueling, and merciless candidate training will have the chance to be transformed into mythical heroes…or die trying. They will be pushed beyond their physical and mental limits as they seek to survive an unforgiving planet, lost and derelict ghost spaceships, and, worst of all, the cold, unflinching brutality of Tyrus Rechs. At the end of this crucible, only the one percent of the one percent will earn the right to be called…

…Legionnaires.

Gods and Legionnairesis really two books in one.  The first part is told from the perspective of Crometheus, a Savage marine who was part of the conquering force at New Vega.  In the second part, Tyrus Rechs puts the first volunteers to The Legion through a crucible designed to weed out the weak and perfect the strong.

In the “Gods” part of the book, we learn more about the Savages.  Crometheus delves into his own history and how it intertwines with the Uplifted, as they call themselves.  The tale is reminiscent of Imperator, which dealt with the origins of Goth Sullus.  The authors crank it up to eleven here, though.

There is some action as the Savages continue their crusade to conquer the known galaxy, but most of the story occurs in the main character’s head.  You definitely have to pay attention to the story as it unfolds, because it wraps around itself at several points.

“Legionnaires” follows a group of recruits as they go through Tyrus Rechs’ version of boot-camp, Ranger indoctrination, and hourly gut-checks.  Characters from the battle of New Vega return, but they’re joined by new faces that join them in the grueling training put on by the galaxy’s supreme warrior.

Stephen Lang’s narration is very good.  His telling of the almost stream of consciousness “Gods” part of the book is excellent.  We already know he can narrate an action scene, so seeing him deal with the psychology and inner voices of all of the characters in Gods and Legionnaires was a treat.

This is the middle book of a trilogy, so we know where they came from and we know they’re going somewhere.  Gods and Legionnaires is a great way to spend a few days trying to map out the road between those two places.

Book Review – Gods and Monsters

Holly Chism has come out with the next volume in her Modern Gods series, Gods and Monsters:

Here there be dragons…again, damn it.

Deshayna has her sanity back, and forces older than the gods have granted her a new purpose. Chronos, his freedom restored, fights for his sanity, and with it, a purpose in helping Deshayna—now called Shay—with hers. The gods are starting to pull together more…and it’s about time.

Millennia after the last dragons to threaten human existence have been hunted down, they’ve started to reappear, hinting to the surviving gods that something more sinister appeared first: Tiamat.

Instead of a confrontation, though, the gods—major, minor, and genus loci—are drawn into a frustrating hunt for a predator that flees rather than attempting to strike.

Gods and Monsterscontinues the story of how the ancient gods live and thrive in the modern world.  The story discusses, and is sometimes from, the point of view of Poseidon, Hades, Odin, and Artemis.  A cast of other deities from other traditions rounds out the cast.

Mrs. Chism always packs her stories with human interactions, such as love, competition, and conflict, but Gods and Monsters also has quite a bit of action as the characters come together to fight against an ancient evil.

This is a quick read, but doesn’t feel like it.  An action-packed chapter that whizzes by is followed by one that slows down and shows us the more human and family side of the characters.

If you haven’t read the first few books in the Modern Gods series, you should probably take some time and read them before starting this book.  It’s well told, but builds on what came before.  Like the rest of the series, there are a couple of adult-oriented sequences in Gods and Monsters, but none of them are gratuitous or unnecessary.

Gods and Monsters is the best work I’ve read by the author, and I’m really looking forward to what comes next.

Audiobook Review – Galaxy’s Edge: Savage Wars Book 1

Jason Anspach and Nick Cole take us back to where it all began in Galaxy’s Edge: Savage Wars Book 1

The greatest conflict the galaxy has ever known….

They were the Savages. Raiders from our distant past. Elites who left Earth to create tailor-made utopias aboard the massive lighthuggers that crawled through the darkness between the stars. But the people they left behind on a dying planet didn’t perish in the dystopian nightmare the Savages had themselves created: they thrived, discovering faster-than-light technology and using it to colonize the galaxy ahead of the Savages, forming fantastic new civilizations that surpassed the wildest dreams of Old Earth.

Until the Savages came in from the Darkness…. 

When a Savage hulk lands on glittering New Vega, one of the crown jewels of the post-Earth galaxy, a coalition of planetary governments amasses their forces to respond to the post-human Savage Marines who’ve come to sack and enslave. But what the coalition forces find is something far more sinister than the typical Savage hit-and-run: this time, the Savages have come to stay.

Witness the intense beginning of The Savage Wars, the epic conflict, built into the lore of Galaxy’s Edge, that will encompass over a thousand years of brutal fighting. Only the greatest military force in the galaxy can bring this war to an end…and the galaxy will never again be the same.

Experience the beginning of the Legion. Experience the Savage Wars.

Featuring an unforgettable performance by Stephen Lang (Avatar, Gods & Generals), Jason Anspach and Nick Cole explore the thrilling, desperate, and brutal war that forever shapes the galaxy….

We’ve read about the Savage Wars in the other Galaxy’s Edge books.  It’s normally talked about in hushed tones, and we learned how Savages impacted Tyrus Rechs and Goth Sullus.

Now, Anspach and Cole bring us to the first true battle in the Savage Wars.  Savage Wars Book 1 introduces us to the galaxy in the time after the diaspora from Earth, but before the founding of the Republic.  Mankind is splintered and only works together in the most academic sense of the word.  We get to see a titanic battle to retake a planet from the Savages and glimpses of the adventures to come.

The action is fast paced and constant throughout this yarn.   A new cast of characters just as engaging as Chuun and Ford fill out the story.  There are a few side plots that slow things down and make you think, but I found myself staying in the truck to listen to the end of a chapter several times.  I didn’t want to go all night without finding out what happened next.

Stephen Lang did an excellent job narrating Savage Wars.  He easily changed his cadence, tone, and vocalizations to match the story and characters.

If you’ve gone as far out on Galaxy’s Edge as you think you can, take a breath, close your eyes, and step into the Savage Wars.

Book Review – Pretending to Sleep

Monalisa Foster has penned a poignant, vivid depiction of life under communist rule in Pretending to Sleep:  A Communism Survivor’s Short Story.

Based on actual events, this short story provides a quick glimpse into life under Ceaucescu’s brutal communist regime. Like so many Romanians, ten-year-old Renata lives in fear of Securitate (Ceaucescu’s secret police). They don’t always take you in the middle of the night. In a world where the living envy the dead, not all examples are made in the shadows. Some are made in the light of day.

Pretending to Sleep depicts the events in a child’s life as she endures and escapes communist Romania.  The dehumanizing discipline and fear that such regimes demand is portrayed in simple, blunt language.  Ms. Foster’s tale is in the same vein as Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl or Ryabakov’s Children of the Arbat.

This is a short story, so I read through it quickly.  However, that made it easy to go back and reread it.  The narrative of Pretending to Sleep reminded me of stories told to me by folks who survived Stalin’s terror or suffered under the heel of the Stazi.

One more compliment I can give this book is that it’s appropriate for children older than 10 or 12 years old.  In fact, I’d say that it would be good for someone who is learning about the world to read it.  The evils of totalitarianism, communist or not, need to be retold so that we don’t forget them.

Give Pretending to Sleep a read.  It’ll definitely give you something to think about.

Audiobook Review – I Heard You Paint Houses

Rather than watch DeNiro and Pacino chew on the scenery for three-plus hours in The Irishman, I decided to just listen to I Heard You Paint Houses.  I’m glad I did.

The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hustler and hitman who worked for legendary crime boss Russell Bufalino alongside some of the most notorious figures of the 20th Century. Spanning decades, Sheeran’s story chronicles one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and it offers a monumental journey through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics. Sheeran would rise to a position of such prominence that in a RICO suit against The Commission of La Cosa Nostra, the US Government would name him as one of only two non-Italians in conspiracy with the Commission. Sheeran is listed alongside the likes of Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno.

Charles Brandt did a masterful job of mixing quotes from Frank Sheeran’s discussion of his life with historical facts to make The Irishman / I Heard You Paint Housesinto an interesting living history lesson on the American underworld in the second half of the 20th Century.

The book covers Sheeran’s life, starting with his youth in Depression-era Philadelphia, through his service in World War II, and his career as a soldier in organized crime and the Teamsters.  We get to meet people like Russ Bufalino and, of course, Jimmy Hoffa.

The author spends quite a bit of time humanizing his subject, which makes his crimes even more shocking when they are discussed.  Sheeran goes into detail about his deeds, explaining how he would approach and eliminate his targets, how crimes were planned and executed, and how the syndicates controlled government, business, and the unions.

If you’re looking for an insider’s look at crime and the people who live in its world, this one is a great source.

Book Review – The Reservist

J.R. Handley joins Nick Cole and Jason Anspach in the 6th volume in their Order of the Centurion series: The Reservist

They promised him one weekend a month. The House or Reason swore the 9th would never leave their gentle homeworld. But after Kublar, things changed for Sergeant Fetch and the Caledonian Reserve Legion Corps. Thrown into a meat grinder conflict in a desperate bid to hold the line, it doesn’t matter whether you’re reserve or active, only that you kill and survive.

A searing tale of combat and honor at any price from a wounded veteran of the War in Iraq who fought to keep the MSRs open from Mosul to Tikrit.

Short version – The Reservist is one of the best pieces of military fiction I’ve ever read.  I got as much out of it and enjoyed it as much as I did Starship Troopers and David Drake’s Redliners.

The Reservist follows a part-time soldier who has to become a warrior and a leader when the world falls in on his unit before they’ve even geared up.  The action is relentless, punctuating a story of personal growth and loyalty to those who stand with the main character against an evil and intractable enemy.

Even with all the action to grab you, it’s the characters who hold on.  Fetch and the soldiers who fight with him are drawn in vivid Technicolor throughout the book.  The details that make them individuals and not cardboard cutouts make their suffering and loss even more impactful.

I read The Reservist from cover to cover in one sitting, and I completely lost track of time while I was reading.  Handley paced this one perfectly.

If you’ve read the other Galaxy’s Edge books, you’ll enjoy this one.  Even if you haven’t, if you enjoy good military fiction, science fiction or not, then you’ll love The Reservist.

 

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