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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.

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.

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