Jackson Banks has compiled a humorous collection of short stories, which reads like a memoir written by a seemingly-cursed individual. He does state a good portion of the “I Put Pants on for This?” stories are fictional or embellished, but the feel is authentic. One story details the adventures a young child experienced as a military dependent in Guantanamo, Cuba, another chronicles being held a hostage in the Great White North of Canada due to the vagaries of air transportation. Family vacations do not escape his satirical treatment, whether white-water rafting to Outer Banks camping in the car due to all of the tents blowing away or being in a flood plain. The vagaries of hotel lodging, and those looking for love in the wrong places, are also explored in this short book.
I very much enjoyed Jackson Banks’ witty avuncular writing style which would be right at home being narrated by Garrison Keillor. “I Put Pants on for This?” is well-edited and I read it quickly, although interrupted many times by laughter. Anyone who has experienced the fecklessness of the travel and lodging industries can absolutely relate to the tribulations of his fictional self. A waiter who offers up a special, which they no longer have in stock, because it is their restaurant’s policy to recite a list of specials regardless of whether it can actually be ordered. It’s enough to turn a diner to drink, but funny when it happens to someone else. You too can enjoy the simple pleasures of schadenfreude by reading this delightful book.
One is One relates the story of Tania’s search for her past, set off by the precipitant death of her caretaker grandparents and subsequent discovery of clues concerning the disappearance or murder of her parents on a remote Orkney island. Tania travels there and enlists the aid of a local private detective who appears to be little more than a comic-book reading man-child. Tania, with her African heritage, stands out among the in-bred pale Nordic locals. Meanwhile, a London Metro Police detective follows up on a disappearance case of his own, the only lead is a photo of a flower which doesn’t exist in the normal world. Thomas, a man disconnected from both time and space, is drawn towards something he knows not what; and watched by those whose thought takes no regard of man. Andrew James Greig orchestrates the convergence of all human and supernatural threads to the Scottish island of Rum for a final act.
I very much enjoyed the interleaving of plot lines in Andrew James Greig’s “One is One”. The incorporation of mythological elements into real-life settings gave the entire story an unearthly ambience, almost like the signature fogs and condensate wet cobblestones described within. The book is tightly edited and formatted beautifully with art accents and maps. Characters are well developed and left me wanting to know much more about the hidden drivers behind the plot. Many are the books which invoke the thin places between universes sprinkled around our fair Earth, but very few live up to their promise as well as this one.
Relics of Andromeda begins the story of Anka and her quest to deal with an alien artifact in accordance with the customs of her people. Jonathan Michael Erickson’s first installment in the Song of Ancients series, is set several hundred years in the future when a cataclysm destroys the man-made pathway between the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies. Those left in Andromeda have to find a way to exist without the near-term possibility of a return to Earth. The relics of an incredibly advanced ancient race, the Dokaber, are scattered throughout Andromeda and prove perilous when mishandled by humans. Anka’s troubles escalate when the agreements between her tribe and the technology-enhanced are no longer being honored. Somehow, she has to navigate between all interested parties, whose designs range from quarantine, theft, or experimenting on the relics for technological advances. The seemingly sentient relics may have an agenda of their own however.
Jonathan Michael Erickson does a fine job of kicking this series off with a compelling universe, consistently presented throughout. I particularly enjoyed the dynamics of how corrupting absolute power can be, even to the best of friends. There are layers upon layers to the story, so many moving parts it can be a challenge to keep it all straight. Much is made clearer with the handy lexicon provided at the end of the text. This installment ends fairly abruptly, without resolution of many major issues, but it has to end somewhere. What is there, however, admirably sets a full stage for the Relics of Andromeda sequel.
Judith Hill has curated a collection of her Single at Sixty Sucks blog entries into this humorous short take on dating after age sixty. Fact is Stranger than Fiction is comprised of fourteen standalone chapters on topics ranging from musings on what exactly the author looks for in a prospective date, to dealing with the all-too-common reality of being rejected. Each story reflects a comedic take on her personal experiences in the post-sixty dating scene or those of people she knows. The entire book can be easily read within an hour or two. A snapshot of what happens when a recently-divorced elder romance novel author ventures out in search of love, or its generic equivalent.
I had a great time reading this book; Judith Hill covers some sensitive topics with earthy good humor, sparing herself nothing. Being male, it was quite refreshing to learn how the other half sees these issues, and also interesting to discover some of the same elder-dating complaints cloaked in a different perspective. The writing is crisp and engaging, without the sloppiness sometimes seen in blog posts. Her blog is marketed primarily towards older women, but older males with a sense of humor would enjoy it as well. I certainly did. My favorite chapters were I Know What I Want and Sex vs. Intimacy, with Rejection is a River and Fight or Flight close behind. There isn’t one weak link in Fact is Stranger than Fiction, and I recommend it to anyone facing the same situation with humor.
Victoria Lehrer has written a compelling kickoff to the New Earth Chronicle series with The Augur’s View. She presents a dystopian world as it exists post Solar Blast, a coronal mass ejection which fries the electronics of every unshielded device in the world. Power lines and generation systems melt, causing fires to rage out of control. Airliners in flight crash around the world. A powered genetic elite, given forewarning of the event, have emerged from their underground sanctuaries to rule over the rubble. A few survivors have escaped the control of the newly established Union of the Americas; forming a small community of like-minded free people in the mountains around Durango, Colorado. But there is more going on here besides a human political struggle, forces more advanced than human are also in play and it’s unclear what their objectives will be in the end. The blast has also activated normally-recessive DNA in the survivors. Eena is a hybrid member of the elite faction who defects to join those living in freedom. Along the way she rediscovers the lost continent of Mu and a race of large birds, called augurs, which can be bonded and flown by human riders. As the elite works to rebuild aircraft and consolidate power, the augur riders stand in opposition.
Victoria Lehrer has tackled a story with a huge number of initial plot elements in play, and done it well. The Augur’s View sets the stage for what will almost certainly be a worthy series. I particularly liked Gavin and his heroic quest struggles to fit into the augur rider community. Dora’s serendipitous introduction was handled adroitly and she will also be an interesting character to follow. I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the second installment.
Jordan Ray Allen has written a high-speed romp portraying petty (and not so petty) criminals engaged in what they supposedly do best. The titular character Ice Pick, also known as a priest, runs a loan shark business out of his church. His right hand man Frank, also known as Deacon Frank, loyally helps him do so. A larger criminal Texas Pete, an attractive yoga-practicing 50 year old woman, objects to Frank running business in her turf and imposes a tax payable by Easter Sunday or else a handful of her own “Franks” would help emphasize the point. Ice Pick and Frank come up with an idea to squeeze more money from the congregation (fake miracles are involved) at the same time other criminals are plotting to help themselves to the ill-gotten gains. All the characters in Melting Ice are criminals of one type or another, including the nice guy character. A whirl of double, and triple, crosses bring all of the characters together in the final reel.
I found Melting Ice to be a very entertaining read. The length is that of a novella or long short story, written as a screenplay but in an accessible way. The dialog is witty, well-crafted, and consistent within character. The chapter titles are excellent. I can easily see this as a movie, because the writing creates a visual image which wouldn’t need much in the way of translation. Jordan Ray Allen has created a fun universe for those, like me, who enjoy anything inspired by Elmore Leonard or Tarantino films like “Pulp Fiction”.
February got back on track with regards to new words written. Days where I fell below the target (1K/day) were made up on other days. February also saw completion of the Pandora’s Children manuscript. Time for the editor and her chainsaw! I also changed the project/title list to exclude published items. Titles which show complete are pre-publication (short stories are the lower word counts).
Victoria Landis has written a wonderful story about the titular character Jordan, who is discovered to have special powers seldom seen in humans. The book relates her reemergence into the world after having been missing for three years. Her limited memories of the past complicate even the simplest of questions: Where has she been? How did she get back? Is there a larger purpose to her new powers? Who can she fully trust? Why is she here? The secondary characters have their own reasons to discover the same answers. Jordan finds people she can trust and begins to work the task she has been given as best she can. But for every miracle there is an equal and opposite backlash. Can Jordan win through the gathering darkness into a better world?
I found Victoria Landis’ story to be simply superb. She very accurately (although optimistically in my opinion) predicts society’s reaction to someone like Jordan. I very much enjoyed the parallels drawn from religion and mythology, right down to the names of the participants. The text is tightly edited and without wasted exposition, i.e. nothing structural will prevent the pages from turning to the very end. The characters assumed their own life and breathed, along with this reader. I could smell the smoke and feel the heat. Jordan’s story doesn’t answer all of the questions I had about her and those close to her, but hopefully they will be addressed in a sequel. I know I will be one of those eagerly lining up to see what’s next!