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Book Review – King’s Champion

Peter Grant’s latest, his first work in epic fantasy, is out.  It’s called “King’s Champion” and it’s an awesome tale.

After decades of peace, war is threatening the Kingdom of Avranche. Its old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

The story is well-paced, with action punctuating an immersive narrative through a world where honor, magic, and bravery rule the day.  The main character, Owain, is an old warrior who is called back to service by his sense of duty to the kingdom.  He confronts an ancient evil that he thought he had defeated decades earlier, and works to restore the protectors of his land.

Grant brings his outstanding writing to this new genre, and he has captured the spirit of classic fantasy.   He doesn’t dwell on descriptions, but does an excellent job of drawing out the lands and people that populate this new world.

King’s Champion is an easy, enjoyable read that grabs you and won’t let go.  If you can put it down, it will keep you thinking until you pick it back up.  It’s definitely recommended for anyone who enjoys excellent stories about honor and bravery.

Book Review- Familiar Tales

Alma Boykin has come out with “Familiar Tales“, a collection of several short stories all set in a world that will be familiar to the reader, but with just a touch of magic thrown in.

Here’s the blurb:

Smiley Lorraine: Wolverine. Rosie Jones: 100-lb. Skunk. Morgana Lorraine: Witch with Editorial Problems.

Welcome to a world where Familiars choose magic workers, and a few others, as their partners. A world of adventure, tax-deductions, bad publisher tricks, and odd veterinary clinics, where wolverines wear glasses and iguanas sing along with the radio—badly—while casting spells and keeping their chosen humans out of mischief.

Or try to.

Several stories revolve around the consequences of bad editing and proofreading on textbooks for young mages, while others deal with the care, feeding, and integration of magical animals, or familiars, in people’s lives. The characters, as much as can be done in such short works, are well developed and immediately recognizable as folks you might run into every day.  Except for the wolverine.  Well, maybe the wolverine, but probably not the skunk.

Boykin brings humor to the table in heaping helpings, but these aren’t ‘funny’ stories.  Her wit is focused and sharp, but not cutting, and it brought just the right spice to her tales.

This was a quick read, taking an hour or so to get through, but I found it immersive and entertaining.  These stories are perfect for a lazy summer afternoon or for a cold night in front of the fireplace. I hope that Familiar Tales leads to more stories, because I’m already curious as to what happens next.

 

Book Review – The LawDog Files: African Adventures

Following up on his debut book, LawDog has come out with his second work, African Adventures.   The book contains his stories of growing up in Western Africa, including the multi-chapter Ratel Saga, which tells the tale of the time he and his brother ‘captured’ a rather aggressive example of African wildlife.  My favorite, though, was the tale of when one of the village peddlers presented LawDog’s mother with a rather slithery example of said wildlife, which brought the family mongoose to fits of excitement.

African Adventures gives us a more personal side of the author’s life than what we saw in the first installment of the LawDog Files.  The author comes alive, as does his family, their pets, and all of their adventures.

This is a fast, easy read, told in a conversational tone that makes you want to know what happens next.  Read it in an environment where giggles, chuckles, and outright bursts of laughter will not be frowned upon. This is definitely going to go on my list of books which will be read over and over.

Movie Review – Dunkirk

I treated myself the other day and shelled out for an IMAX showing of Dunkirk.  The movie, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, tells the story of the evacuation of almost 400,000 British, French, and Allied soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk after being cut off and surrounded by the German invasion of France in 1940.

The story centers around three principle characters:  Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead, is a soldier trapped on the beach.  Mister Dawson, played by Mark Rylance, is an Englishman who answers the call to take his pleasure craft across the Channel to rescue soldiers.  Finally, Tom Hardy plays Farrier, a Spitfire pilot trying to provide air cover to the beaches and evacuation at the very limit of his aircraft’s range.  Another, but by no means the only, shining star in the highly talented ensemble cast is Kenneth Branagh, who plays the British naval commander on the beach.

Dunkirk is tense, and traps you in its world for its entire length.  Nolan paced the movie very well, and interlaces these three storylines in expert fashion.  Only in the last, climactic scenes do we see how they relate to each other, but you have to pay attention throughout the movie to catch how it is done.

Dialogue is kept to a minimum throughout the film, and what there is is terse and necessary.  There is little to no expository dialogue, and very few exchanges meant to sway the audience one way or another.  The story is told through the actions of the characters, not through long soliloquies.

The film’s score occasionally seemed to be overpowering, but it was used to drive the audience’s mood and synced very well with the story.  I’m not sure that it’s a soundtrack that I would enjoy just for its own sake, but it meshed well with the movie.

The sound effects were excellent.  Nolan obviously took the trouble to get the sounds of the different guns firing, the engines roaring, and the bombs exploding right.

If special effects, either physical or CGI, were used in this movie, I found it hard to see them.  The aerial combat scenes were outstanding, and they make me hope that Nolan follows this up with a movie about the Battle of Britain.

As someone who enjoys military-themed movies, I would put this on the same level as Saving Private Ryan, Blackhawk Down, or Lone Survivor.  I definitely recommend it for adults, and I believe that young people who can handle a bit of justified violence and already know something about World War II would enjoy Dunkirk and learn a bit of history from it.

Book Review – Rimworld – Into the Green

The latest from Jim Curtis, Rimworld – Into the Green, is out, and it’s a great yarn.

After a chance encounter with Dragoons and Traders turns a routine planet exploration into a rout that kills his team and his career, Lieutenant Ethan Fargo, medically retired, wants nothing more than to hole up in the backwater Rimworld he’d explored and enjoy a quiet retirement far from people or problems.

Unfortunately, he’s about to find out that he’s not as retired as he wants to be, and that his new home system comes with dangers, politics, and Dragoon sightings of its own. What promised to be a boring retirement will turn out to be anything but.

Into the Green occurs in the same universe as Curtis’ earlier short work, Stranded, in which humanity struggles against the voracious alien Dragoons and their human toadies, the Traders.  The main character, Fargo, is a veteran of both combat and exploration who returns to a nice, quiet planet to retire and enjoy the rest of his life.  Of course, the universe is having none of that, and soon he is embroiled in conflict with both invaders and turncoats.

This is a fast-moving story, and I enjoyed every page.  If you’re looking for something for the beach, the cabin, or the lake and you enjoy sci-fi adventures, you’ll like Into the Green.

New Book From Peter Grant

Peter Grant, proprietor of the Bayou Renaissance Man blog, has brought out the second book in his Ames Archives western series, titled Rocky Mountain Retribution.  The new book is the sequel to last year’s Brings the Lightning, and it is an excellent continuation of the story.

In the post-Civil War West, the railroads are expanding, the big money men are moving in, and the politicians they are buying make it difficult for a man to stand alone on his own. So, Walt Ames moves his wife, his home and his business from Denver to Pueblo. The railroads are bringing new opportunities to Colorado Territory, and he’s going to take full advantage of them.

Rocky Mountain Retribution is an excellent yarn that takes Walter Ames all over the American west, through all kinds of conditions, and follows his fight against a new enemy.  It’s a page turner, so don’t be surprised if you don’t finish it in one sitting.  If you haven’t read Brings the Lightning yet, it will definitely bring the second book into focus, but this one could also be enjoyable as a stand-alone novel.

If you like Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey, you’ll enjoy these.  Grant is one of the best story tellers I know, and I’ve enjoyed his westerns more than anything else he’s written.  I definitely recommend Rocky Mountain Retribution to anyone who enjoys adventure, honor, and grit.

Book Review – Scaling the Rim

My friend, Dorothy Grant, has come out with her debut book, Scaling the Rim.  It’s an engrossing, well plotted coming-of-age story that draws you in and holds on.  Here’s the blurb:

Never underestimate the power of a competent tech…

When Annika Danilova arrived at the edge of the colony’s crater to install a weather station, she knew the mission had been sabotaged from the start. The powers that be sent the wrong people, underequipped, and antagonized their supporting sometimes-allies. The mission was already slated for unmarked graves and an excuse for war…

But they hadn’t counted on Annika allying with the support staff, or the sheer determination of their leader, Captain Restin, to accomplish the mission. Together, they will overcome killing weather above and traitors within to fight for the control of the planet itself!

Dorothy’s writing flows smoothly, and her description of a cold, forbidding landscape paint vivid pictures of snowy mountain passes almost instantly.  Her characters are well thought out, especially Annika. This young lady transforms from a pigeon-holed underling into an independent, treasured member of a society that treasures her.

Dorothy has been instrumental in my own writing, and it’s great to see her turn her considerable skills toward telling her own stories.  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where she takes us next.

Scaling the Rim is a quick read, and perfect for a winter evening in front of the fire.  I definitely suggest it for someone who is looking to escape and relax for a few hours.

Review – Rogue One

Rogue One is a stand-alone Star Wars film set just prior to 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope.  It goes through the story of how the Rebel Alliance was able to steal the plans for the Death Star.

The movie stars Felicity Jones as Jin Erso, the heroine who is the key to the mission, and Diego Luna as Cassian Alder, a Rebel agent tasked with finding Jin and her father.  The cast also includes Alan Tudyk as droid K-250, a heretofore unseen Empire droid model sent along for strategic thinking and comic relief, and Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, a Rebel guerilla leader on the mandatory desert planet. Ben Mendelsohn plays Director Krennic, the ambitious Imperial officer in charge of building the Death Star.  All of these actors, along with the entire cast, do an excellent job drawing the viewer in and feeling the story.

Where the movie succeeded was in making an interesting story with a few hat tips to preceding movies without overwhelming its own story.  The visuals were, as always in Star Wars, outstanding.  The plot was quick and to the point, and I never felt as if I were noticing the two hours that passed between opening shot and closing credits.

Where the movie stumbled, however, was in how the plot unfolds.  It’s a lot to get through in two hours, and a lot seemed to have been cut out in order to cram the story in.  There was a lot of ‘Boom!  We’re Here! Boom!  We’re there!’, and it made the film seem choppy in places.  Character development was shorted most of all.  All of the characters in the movie sounded interesting and rich, but, with the exception of Jin, all they got was a couple “they’re so and so, they do this” lines of dialogue. When the movie comes out for home video, I will definitely be waiting for the extended cut so I (hopefully) get more of the supporting story.

I saw this movie with Girlie Bear and Boo, and both enjoyed it.  The action got intense at times, but Boo seemed to handle it very well.  As we were walking out of the theater, he told me we had to go home and watch Episode 4, so I guess Rogue One grabbed his attention.

Overall, I’d give the movie an A.  It is definitely more enjoyable than last year’s “The Force Awakens,” and is only eclipsed by “The Empire Strikes Back” in my list of Star Wars movies.

 

Spoiler rich analysis follows.  Continue at your own risk.

(more…)

Review – En Route

Most of you are familiar with Kelly Grayson, proprietor of the Ambulance Driver Files blog.  He’s been a speaker at a myriad of EMS conferences, educated more people than I’ve met, and has been a helping hand to countless sick and injured people throughout his career.

(Side note – Kelly’s teaching recently came in handy for Girlie Bear.  While doing training with her ROTC class, she surprised her instructors by being able to properly put on a tourniquet in a short amount of time.  She learned it from Kelly in one of his Shooter Self Care classes.)

Recently, Kelly re-released his book, “En Route – A Paramedic’s Stories of Life, Death, and Everything In Between“.  It’s a collection of vignettes from his experiences in the first few years of his career.  He tells us tales that will make you laugh until your sides hurt, as well as those that will make your heart ache.

Grayson is an expert storyteller, and even though these stories are short bites of his life, he draws a complete picture and draws you into every one of them.  His stories flow very well, and you will find yourself immersed as you read.

The book is a quick read, and it leaves you looking forward to the sequel.  If you’re looking for something to read in front of the fire while Old Man Winter shakes the house, this is it.

 

Full Disclosure – Kelly Grayson and I have been friends for several years. I have taken first aid training from him, broken bread with him, and he mentions me as part of his ‘tribe’ in the final pages of the book. That being said, I enjoyed this book and look forward to his follow-on works. I think you will too. I paid full price for my copies of the book, and received nothing from him for doing this review.

Review – Rimworld: Stranded

Jim Curtis, also known as OldNFO, has dipped his toes into the military science fiction pool, and spins yet another great yarn in Rimworld: Stranded.  In it, a maintenance technician misses the “Oh crap, we gotta go!” message when aliens attack his outpost, and is left behind to deal with the invaders with only what he knows and what he has on hand.  The story and character are a break from the regular “I’ve been training all my life for this!” heroes in the genre.  He makes mistakes, has human reactions to bad situations, and is really easy to connect with.

This is a great, quick read for anyone who enjoys mil-SF.  Curtis’ skill as a storyteller shines through, and his writing is crisp and to the point.  I heartily recommend this one.

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