“First Flight”, by Zachary Jones – Review

Zachary Jones has written a classic space opera, heavy on the space battle action. In the midst of a war between two human factions, the Federals and the League, a new power inserts itself into the equation by soundly trouncing both groups in multiple surprise attacks. While initially outclassed by the Ascendency forces, Mason, a young fighter pilot, must somehow survive the complete destruction of his fighter group and live to fight another day. While much about the Ascendency suggests a human origin, such as their approach to fighting space battles, there are many other things which suggest they might be something completely new. Mason is seconded to the Special Purpose Branch, a military intelligence arm of the human Federal forces. They are tasked to learn more about the Ascendency, hopefully in time for the knowledge to make a difference.

I am a fan of space operas in general, but normally gravitate to those which have a high emphasis on the overall plot rather than being mostly a series of space battles. Zachary Jones does a fine job of emphasizing the space battles, which he clearly loves, while not losing sight of the need to move the plot forward. The action was believable, in that most of the technologies involved were not radical departures from what physics could one day support. If you are the type of person who loves reading realistic accounts of massive space battles punctuated by human ingenuity under pressure, First Flight is definitely the book for you!

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“The Hollywood Portal”, by E. E. King – Review

Eddie Evers is back! Or rather he never went away. The Hollywood Portal continues the story of my favorite electric detective; as he works to find answers to a number of questions surrounding a 50s-era bomb shelter which has somehow become a portal to another world. Not just any world; a version of Earth which didn’t make it through the cold war without shots fired in anger. E. E. King continues the witty dialog as Eddie still sees the world in greyscale, with occasional otherworldly incursions in full color. His deceased daughter is now sending him written notes from the beyond; usually timely warnings which, like most oracular warnings, are not understood until after the events occur. I wonder why oracles even bother!

We learn even more about the checkered past of Los Angeles, with nods to things most Angelinos would instantly recognize. Half of the fun comes from the inside references. My favorite section is:

“Most realtors I know are as honest as lawyers.”
“But not as smart,” Blake said.
“But not as smart,” I agreed.

The story isn’t all humor, as Eddie manages some significant personal growth in addition to tracking down the extra-dimensional villain(s). I enjoyed the book from beginning to end, and look forward to her next installment.

“Electric Detective”, by E. E. King – Review

E.E. King has written a classic detective story set in Los Angeles, but with several delightful science fiction twists. Eddie Evers, a former FBI agent tasked to child abduction cases, has come apart at the seams after his wife and daughter are killed in an auto accident. Eighteen months later, Eddie is still self-medicating with Jack Daniels. To make things worse, Eddie survives a direct hit by a lightning bolt and recovery requires even more Jack Daniels. The shock has left him seeing the world in grayscale, except for things which aren’t real; things like futuristic fruit hybrids, dead bodies, and the man who killed his family. The new vision helps his business as a private investigator, working for local police and the FBI. A society of scientists are also interested in Eddie’s newfound skills and aren’t shy in their pursuit. Eddie, with his electric cat Max, has to unravel a series of murders at some of Los Angeles’ best private schools and the truth is even more unusual than Eddie’s backstory.

E.E. King has really knocked this one out of the park, the persona of Eddie fits the wisecracking norm of the detective story while being wholly at home with the science fiction aspects of the story. I especially appreciated all of the witty observations about life in Los Angeles and its history. The tension rises relentlessly as you rush for the final chapter and a strong ending. If you like well-written detective stories and science fiction, look no further, this is a good one!

“I Put Pants on for This?”, by Jackson Banks – Review

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.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“One is One”, by Andrew James Greig – Review

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.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“Relics of Andromeda”, by Jonathan Michael Erickson – Review

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.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“Fact is Stranger than Fiction”, by Judith Hill – Review

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.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“The Augur’s View”, by Victoria Lehrer

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.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“Melting Ice”, by Jordan Ray Allen – Review

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”.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“Jordan”, by Victoria Landis – Review

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!

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite