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Review – Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame, the latest product of the Marvel money-printing machine, is taking the world by storm. Millions of fans, many of whom cannot remember a time before the original Iron Man movie, have flocked to theaters worldwide to find out what happens after the events of last year’s Infinity War.

While I enjoyed the movie, I wasn’t impacted by it in the way other folks in the theater were. The young lady, seated next to me, and Boo, who sat on the other side, went from laughing, to crying, to cheering over and over again. A good portion of the audience clapped and cheered when the movie was over, either because they loved it or because they could finally go to the bathroom after three hours and a gallon of Coke.

To me, the plot dragged quite a bit. The first hour was spent on “We gotta do something!”, the middle hour was a pretty good heist movie, and the last hour as packed solid with “Bam!” and “Smash!” and “Kaplooey!” The first hour could have been cut down quite a bit, and the last hour could have been trimmed some to make this a better-paced story.

The acting was pretty good. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the portrayals of Captain America and Thor were my favorites. As always, Robert Downey, Jr., did an excellent job channeling Tony Stark.

As for special effects and action, it’s everything you expect from a Marvel movie and more. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that you’ll see enough CGI faces get punched and things get blown up to satisfy even the most degenerate action-movie junkie.

On a parental note, I did notice a bit more rough language in this one than in earlier MCU movies. Nothing too graphic, but just a few words that were unexpected in a series that has been mostly clean.

While this isn’t my favorite episode in the Marvel series, it was enjoyable and worth the cost of admission. Now that the main story arc of the last decade is done, let’s hope that Marvel doesn’t squeeze the lemon too hard and tarnish the series ala Star Wars/Trek.

Review – Against a Rising Tide

Alma Boykin closes her “The Powers” series with an excellent story of family, honor, and duty in “Against a Rising Tide“.

The World War has ended. The battles rage on.

Five years after the end of the World War, men, Half-Dragons and True-Dragons labor to repair the damage. The English and French insist on punishing the nations of the Habsburg Confederation and Germany, while nationalists and Communists threaten to tear the alliance and the Houses apart from within. As chaos swirls and tensions rise, István Eszterházy and Archduke Rudolph von Habsburg struggle to preserve order, and to preserve both Houses and Powers. Worse, an old enemy from the war stalks István, intent on revenge.

But true danger lurks to the east. The forces that destroyed Galicia threaten to devour all of the Powers and Houses, killing the very soil of the land as they do. As another war rages, István and Rudolph must hide the secret of the Powers from forces more terrible than the Mongols and ottomans combined.

Against a Rising Tide continues the story of Istvan Esterhazy, a nobleman leading a family that boasts dragons in its bloodline. After the defeat and dismemberment of the First World War, the Houses of the Empire are hard-pressed to adapt to a new world. Boykin adds a thread of tension throughout this story, which ratchets up the pace and keeps the reader riveted.

While taking us through the political and social upheaval of the 1920’s and ’30’s, Boykin paints a vivid depticion of a man trying to preserve what he can while living in the real world. In the end, this is a story of humanity in an ever-more dehumanizing world.

I had to take this story in small bites so that I could chew it over and think about what it was telling me. I definitely recommend this entire series to folks who are interested in this period of history and want a story that appeals on many levels.

Review – Lab Gremlins

Cedar Sanderson’s new short work, Lab Gremlins, is a fun tale of someone discovering that the world is stranger, more wonderful, and more terrifying than he thought it was.

All Steven wanted was a lab job to get experience. His boss acted like a mad scientist, but that wasn’t the problem. No, the problem started with disappearances around the lab, and then it really escalated. Steven finds himself scrambling to cope with gremlins, chemical spills, and much worse things when the government agents show up… because they are recruiting and don’t take no for an answer!

Lab Gremlins is a fun, short read that introduces us to Steven, an every-man lab technician who chances upon the rabbit hole and gets dragged down into its depths. Sanderson is a master story-teller, and wastes no time in intricately painting both her characters and the world they inhabit.

Book Review – Vaguely Familiar and Oddly Familiar

Alma Boykin returns to her Familiar Tales world with “Vaguely Familiar“, and Oddly Familiar, a pair of fun rides with Lelia Chan and her familiar, Tay the Lemur.

First, the blurb from Vaguely Familiar:

When stone calls to stone, Familiars and mages must answer.

Lelia Chan’s and Tay’s chance discovery of a fragment of a blood-soaked knife leads them deeper into what it means to be a shadow mage and her Familiar. Meanwhile, Morgana Lorraine heads west, looking for answers (and really good bacon), leaving Officer Jamie Macbeth to deal with the Off Ramp of Doom and his mother-in-law’s ongoing displeasure. But the stone won’t stay quiet.

Could the Off Ramp and the stone be connected? As the stone’s call grows stronger, Lelia and friends race to find an answer to an evil that won’t go quietly.

And Oddly Familiar:

Ah, October, when the ghosts, and spirits walk, and the Off Ramp of Doom falls quiet. Too quiet…

Lelia Chan and her Familiar, Tay, continue learning about magic and what mages do. When a customer drops a strange silver disk in Belle, Book, and Blacklight, it starts a chain of events that pull Lelia deeper into shadow magic. André Lestrange and Rodney return to help sort out the off-ramp. Someone else returns, someone who wants to open doors best left closed. Lelia and Company have their hands and paws full dealing with the forces of darkness and bad jokes.

Evil walks on All Hallows Eve. It’s up to Lelia and Tay to send it back where it belongs. Or else.

Boykin brings a wry sense of humor, a collection of rich settings and characters, and a deft hand at story telling to bring these tales to life. Lelia is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters to learn about, but the other mages are just as well fleshed out and enjoyable. The interaction between the mages and their familiars is at times touching, but also adds a good dose of humor to what could easily have been intense, dark stories.

Both Vaguely Familiar and Oddly Familiar are quick reads, and went very well with a couple of evenings in front of a fire. While the stories dealt with adult themes, they were appropriate for teenagers and adults alike.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where the author takes this world.

Book Review – Next Stop Execution: The Autobiography of Oleg Gordievsky

I decided to take a break from monster hunters, zombies, and hover tanks and picked up Next Stop Execution: The Autobiography of Oleg Gordievsky.

Oleg Gordievsky was the highest ranking KGB officer ever to work for Britain.

For eleven years, from 1974 to 1985, he acted as a secret agent, reporting to the British Secret Intelligence Service while continuing to work as a KGB officer, first in Copenhagen, then in London.

He provided Western security organizations with such a clear insight into the mind and methods of the KGB and the larger Soviet government that he has been credited with doing more than any other individual in the West to accelerate the collapse of Communism.

In this thrilling memoir, Gordievsky lays out his extraordinary, meticulously planned escape from Russia, a story that has been described as ‘one of the boldest and most extraordinary episodes in the history of spying.’ (Ben Macintyre – The Times)

Peopled with bizarre, dangerous and corrupt characters, Gordievsky introduces the reader to the fantastical world of the Soviet Embassy, tells of the British MPs and trade unionists who helped and took money from the KGB, and reveals at last what the author told Margaret Thatcher and other world leaders which made him of such value to the West.

Gordievsky’s autobiography gives a fascinating account of life as a secret agent. It also paints the most graphic picture yet of the paranoid incompetence, alongside the ruthless determination, of the all-encompassing and sometimes ridiculous KGB.

Next Stop Execution tells the life story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent who should have been the idyllic Soviet man.  Instead, through exposure to both Western ideals and witnessing such Communist brutality as the raising of the Berlin Wall, he began to work toward the ruin and eventual downfall of the Soviet state.

Gordievsky’s descriptions and narrative are detailed, if a little dry at times.  However, his ability to draw exquisite pictures of the people he worked with, for, and against brings his story to life.  In addition, his description of life under Soviet oppression acts as a stark backdrop to these characters.  This isn’t an action story by any means, but it proceeds with a tension that breaks only in the aftermath of his escape from the Soviet Union.

Next Stop Execution is a must-read for history buffs who want to learn a little more about the shadowy side of the late Cold War.

Book Review – Galaxy’s Edge: Retribution

Jason Anspach and Nick Cole have completed what they’re calling “Season 1” of their Galaxy’s Edge series.  The 9th book in the series is “Retribution“.

VICTORY is at hand.

With the galaxy in tatters, Chhun and Wraith lead Kill Team Victory and the remnants of the Legion in a clandestine final effort to bring about Article Nineteen. It’s needed now more than ever as the Republic’s new emperor, Goth Sullus, grows increasingly enigmatic and tyrannical in his rule, leaving some to question their roles in bringing the mysterious leader of the Black Fleet to power.

Meanwhile, a dark traveler finds Prisma Maydoon at the sanctuary of Mother Ree, and bids her to depart from the path of the Ancients.

Experience the exciting conclusion of Galaxy’s Edge Season One, as a desperate, daring raid on Utopion itself leaves Kill Team Victory torn between duty to the Legion and the need to make those responsible for its demise finally pay!

I usually burn through Galaxy’s Edge books in one sitting, but I kept putting this book down.  This wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy it.  Rather, it was because the authors did an exquisite job of building to the finale and I didn’t want it to end too quickly.

The plot is thick with tension and punctuated by action.  The characters, all of whom we’ve come to know by now, race toward a final confrontation that rocks the galaxy to its core.  At the same time, the authors point to what comes next, and I’m already looking forward to it.

Retribution is a fitting end to the beginning of what I hope is a long list of stories from Galaxy’s Edge.


Review – First Freedom: A Ride Through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

During my recent trip, I listened to the audiobook of David Harsanyi’s new work, First Freedom:  A Ride Through America’s Enduring History with the Gun.  It’s a solid survey of the history of gun technology, the personalities that helped to make advances in firearms, and their impact American history and culture.

For America, the gun is a story of innovation, power, violence, character, and freedom.

From the founding of the nation to the pioneering of the West, from the freeing of the slaves to the urbanization of the twentieth century, our country has had a complex and lasting relationship with firearms. Now, in First Freedom, nationally syndicated columnist and veteran writer David Harsanyi explores the ways in which firearms have helped preserve our religious, economic, and cultural institutions for over two centuries. From Samuel Colt’s early entrepreneurism to the successful firearms technology that helped make the United States a superpower, the gun is inextricably tied to our exceptional rise.

In the vein of popular histories like Salt and Seabiscuit,Harsanyi takes you on a captivating and thrilling ride of Second Amendment history that demonstrates why guns are not only an integral part of America’s past, but also an essential part of its future.

First Freedom is an engrossing look into how firearms have evolved over the past 1000 years and how they have had an impact on American history.  Harsanyi fills in details without overwhelming the reader, and even folks who have used and studied firearms for years will learn from First Freedom.

While the pro-gun attitude of the author is evident throughout the book, it doesn’t become at all thick until the last couple of chapters.  The author takes time to discuss personalities such as Colt, Browning, Garand, and Stoner as much as he writes about their creations.

Harsanyi paints a detailed picture of the thread that weaves firearms and the right to self defense into the fabric of America.  From the earliest explorers and settlers to the everyday citizen of the 21st century, the book’s narrative relates the importance of firearms in American culture.

I’d recommend First Freedom to anyone who is a fan of history, firearms, or both.  It’s an easy read, and will definitely go into my rotation.

Book Review – Order of the Centurion

Nick Cole and Jason Anspach continue to give us action and honor in their Galaxy’s Edge series, with Order of the Centurion giving us a fresh look at their universe.

“The Order of the Centurion is the highest award that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in, or with, the Legion. When such an individual displays exceptional valor in action against an enemy force, and uncommon loyalty and devotion to the Legion and its legionnaires, refusing to abandon post, mission, or brothers, even unto death, the Legion dutifully recognizes such courage with this award.”

Tired of sitting out the war on Psydon in a mobile office hab, Legion Lieutenant Washam agrees to undertake a covert and unsanctioned mission with a band of Republic Recon Marines. Inserted deep behind enemy lines, the strike force uncovers a surprise key to ending a bitter war. Now they must navigate a hostile jungle teeming with murderous alien rebels, pushing themselves to the limits of their abilities, to get this vital intel to Legion Command–if they can survive that long.

THE ORDER OF THE CENTURION is an all-new series of stand-alone military science fiction thrillers set in the GALAXY’S EDGE universe, ranging from the Savage Wars to the arrival of the Black Fleet. Each book features the legendary heroes of the Legion who forgot nothing in their earning of the Legion’s highest honor.

Let’s face it, Legionnaires are almost super human, and Tyrus Rechs <is> superhuman.  They have an edge in tech, weaponry, skills, and experience.  Wash and most of the other characters in Order of the Centurion have none of these, which makes it an engrossing story of survival and living up to both the moment and the expectations a man has of himself.

Anspach and Cole mix excellent character development with against-all-odds action.  Both lead to a climax that will have your heart racing.  I’ve loved the Galaxy’s Edge books since I read the first sentence of the first book, and Order of the Centurion is arguably in my top two or three favorite books in this series.

Honestly, you probably don’t even need to be a science fiction fan to enjoy this book.  The story is excellent military fiction that just happens to occur on another planet with aliens and blaster rifles.  If you like Leonard B. Scott’s Vietnam War novels, you’ll enjoy Order of the Centurion.


Book Review – Trade Winds

Sarah Hoyt’s new short story collection, Trade Winds, has something for everybody.

Are there truly aliens among us? What do they really want? And what if our creations could come back in lethal form? Could we resist them? If there were a time police, would we know it? And really, why do people expect enlightenment from the stars? What if aliens needed us for their moral compass? You think our illegal immigration is bad? Wait till its coming from the stars? And what happens when the coin falls on edge? Can you reproduce it? Those not particularly moral aliens might set fiendish traps. And you can never go back again. Also, why would you want to? The future will invent completely new ways of making people miserable. Also how well would a generation ship get us to the stars without humans getting in their own way? If you read the world of Darkship Thieves, there’s a story ten years after the revolution in Olympus. It bridges the gap to the second wave of novels of the Earth Revolution which will be written, eventually. And what if the Carthaginians had sowed salt on the ruins of Rome? How long is memory?

This is a great read for curling up to read for a few minutes before bedtime.  Each story pulls the reader in, but doesn’t bog down in description.  Mrs. Hoyt is an artist at quickly building a world and characters and then getting to the point of her stories.  Trade Winds includes alternate history, future history, and just plain good storytelling.

My favorites were “And Not To Yield”, a story of love and duty set in Hoyt’s USAians universe, and “Yearning to Breathe Free”, a story with a message, but one that doesn’t beat you over the head.

If you’re looking for a collection of stories that you can savor and enjoy bit by bit, Trade Winds is what you’re looking for.

Audiobook Review – Starship Troopers

I first read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers when I was twelve.  In fact, I read it three times back to back to back when I was twelve.  I’ve owned at least four copies, which seemed to either wear out or get ‘borrowed’, so I guess you could say I’m a fan.

Imagine my delight when an audiobook of this classic became available.

Join the Army and See the Universe. That is the motto of The Third Space War, also known as The First Interstellar War, but most commonly as The Bug War. In one of Robert Heinlein’s most controversial best sellers, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the universe – and into battle with the Terrain Mobile Infantry against mankind’s most alarming enemy.

I really can’t say anthing new about Heinlein’s story that hasn’t been said, discussed, and argued over a thousand times already.  There’s a reason he’s one of the greats in 20th Century science fiction.  Every piece of Mil SF that I’ve read has had at a bit of Heinlein in it somewhere.

Lloyd James does an excellent job as narrator in this work.  His tone, pacing, and vocalizations are exactly what this story requires.  His work is true to how I envisioned Starship Troopers the first time I read it.

If you’re a Heinlein fan, you’ll enjoy a side trip down a familiar path with this audiobook.  If you’ve never read this classic, this is an excellent chance to give Starship Troopers a try.

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