Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, writer, and possessed by cats

Category: Reviews (Page 2 of 2)

Writing and editing and reviews, oh my!

I am head down, butt in chair busily working on the final edits for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). As I’ve noted before, I had planned for this third book to be the end of not necessarily the series but this story arc. Of course, with my muse being evil, the plan changed and there will be one more book in this particular arc. What happens after that waits to be seen.

This is part of the joy and frustration in being a writer. Sometimes a story takes a turn you don’t expect, no matter how carefully you plot it out beforehand. I know plotters who will come to a complete standstill with a project when that happens. Me, I’m a hybrid between a plotter and pantser. I know the end point of the story and I know the main story points that need to happen between the start and the end. What I don’t always know is what comes between them — or when the plot will diverge for a bit before coming back to the main road. It can be a fun and frustrating ride, especially when a carefully planned series suddenly adds a book or two to it.

As I work on the edits, I am also making notes for Dagger of Elanna, the follow up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). I am also working on finishing Skeletons in the Closet — and deciding if I will publish it as a single volume or as two or three smaller volumes. This weekend, I will be finalizing the print editions for the three books I’ve fallen behind on. In other words, I’ll be doing the business end of writing, the end I know I am the weakest at. That includes not only getting the print versions out but dealing with promotions, the accounts, etc.

I have also, as you can tell by the more frequent posts here, decided to use blogging as my morning writing prompt. I haven’t quite made it habit to do a new post every day but I’m getting there. The reality is, between my posts here, on Mad Genius Club and According to Hoyt, I am doing close to 10k words of blogging a week. So far it hasn’t cut into my writing and has, in fact, seemed to spark it. Maybe it is because it has gotten me back into a “work day” mentality. Perhaps it is because the blogs are my morning prompt and get the creative juices flowing. I’m not sure and I am keeping track. The moment I feel they start cutting in on my “real” writing, I will see what needs to be cut back.

Now, reviews. I don’t often read them. However, there are a couple of reviewers I always read when I get notice they have commented on my work. Sure, I go in cringing because I am always afraid they won’t like my baby. It’s foolish because both are ethical and believe in talking with an author before posting a negative review. I appreciate it and am relieved that neither have felt the needs to have such a conversation with me — yet.

The first of those reviewers, Cedar Sanderson, I linked to earlier this week when I reblogged her review of Slay Bells Ring. The second reviewer is Pat Patterson. Pat is one of those reviewers you want to get to know on a personal level. His reviews are honest and, as I learned in the first one he did for one of my books, laced with humor. He is a blogger as well as a reviewer and his blog always leaves me smiling or thinking or both. Most of all, I love the way he talks about his wife. He calls her his “gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother”. It is clear from every word he writes about her that he adores her. He has to. He read my paranormal books to her. Not many men would do that.  😉

Anyway, Pat’s review of Slay Bells Ring went live on Amazon yesterday. I don’t know if he will be adding it to his blog or not. I’m just thrilled to have it on the Amazon page. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (I am leaving in the link to Pat’s Amazon page so you can check out the rest of his reviews there. I also highly recommend you check out his blog, linked above.)

I want a series! Make it happen!, February 25, 2016
This review is from: Slay Bells Ring (Kindle Edition)
SLAY BELLS RING

Ferguson, Ellie; Green, Amanda S. (2016-01-14). Hunter’s Moon Press. Kindle Edition.

This is not a Christmas book!

I don’t care what you see on the cover, and I don’t care that the title is a goofy pun (and by goofy, I mean stupid). It’s not a Christmas book.

Now, Christmas does figure in to a wee, small, tiny, minuscule degree, in that it does establish a deadline for the protagonist to solve the murders before everyone’s schedule gets mixed up, but that’s it. It’s not a Christmas book.

Wait! I forgot one thing: it does provide an opportunity for bonding and healing through charming invitations to Christmas events. But that’s it, and I mean it this time. NOT A CHRISTMAS BOOK!

It’s a good, dare I say great book, though. I was drooling over it from the beginning, and that’s even before I got to the cuddly scene. (it’s a really nice cuddly scene, too. Just enough; not too much. Tasteful.)

Annie works for the district attorney in Austin, Texas, and is building a nice career, when she is called back home to Mossy Creek by her grandmother. It seems her aggravating and irritating mother has been arrested for murder; in fact, the police discover her clad only in her nightgown, standing over the body of the decedent, holding the murder weapon. And although no one who knows her mother would ever believe that she would commit such a tremendous social faux pas, no one would have believed that she would have been shacking up with an odious character like Spud Buchanan in the first place.

It is now time for me to pay homage to an author skilled in her craft. We know from the very beginning that Annie is a highly competent lawyer, and that the main reason that she had to leave for Austin was to get away from her mother. I had every expectation of reading chapters filled with the details of conflict between mother and daughter.

It doesn’t happen. Not once. The story unfolds seamlessly, we are introduced to characters from Annie’s past, as well as people she is meeting for the first time; we understand clearly where everyone stands on the issues; and we never hear one single word of vicious, nasty, catty, ugly infighting. Not only does this, in retrospect, seem like a refreshing brain cleanse, it also paves the way for realistic scene of reconciliation.

I really like Annie’s character. She is smart, highly skilled, tough when she needs to be, and she gratefully accepts the help that is offered her, even though it is often unexpected. Now, Mossy Creek is a pretty sedate town, so she may not have a lot of adventures ahead of her; on the other hand, Jessica Fletcher never seemed to suffer for mayhem in Cabot’s Cove.

Awesome review

Cedar Sanderson, one of my cohorts over at Mad Genius Club, published a review of Slay Bells Ring yesterday on her blog. I always hold my breath when Cedar, or anyone else for that matter, reviews my work. Like most writers, I am my own worst critic. The means I halfway expect an honest reviewer — which Cedar is — to see all the faults I do, even if many of those faults are in my head. So, when she posts a favorable review, I want to do a happy dance.

Anyway, here’s her review. For other reviews, as well as posts about writing, art and food, be sure to check out her blog.

Review: Slay Bells Ring

So this is a Christmas book, sort of, and it’s chick-lit, sort of. Or at least that’s what you might think when you first picked it up. Sure, it’s set at Christmas time. But why not read about the festive season year round? And sure, the main character is a woman. But that’s where you’d be wrong to dismiss this book. It’s a fun murder mystery with characters who will win you over if you take the time to sit down and read this one.

Juliana Grissom is a lawyer who left her small-town background and never looked back. It wasn’t that there was trouble in her past, no, it was that her family was back there and they all wanted her to come home and fit into the pre-determined fate they wanted her to fulfill. But when she gets the call that her air-head mother has been accused of murdering the one man Juliana knows her mother hates, she doesn’t have a choice. She’s got to go home again, even if it means losing her big-city job, taking up the inheritance she didn’t suspect, and worst of all… interrogating her mother about her sex life.

Slay Bells is a fun, fluffy read with a zany mustery that will go in directions you don’t expect. It’s got heart-warming moments, and a bit of romance, but mostly it’s about family, and coming home again, whether you want to or not. Ellie Ferguson, the penname of Amanda Green, delivers the goods if you enjoy cozy mysteries with a side of wit and wisdom. You might not like them, but they are family, and when the chips are down, they are the ones you can rely on.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster-691x1024Yesterday saw a return to a tradition Mom and I hadn’t observed in some several years. No, not Christmas. For years, we would go see a movie after opening presents, having a huge meal and needing time to get out of the house and relax for a bit. Attendance varied from Mom, myself and my son to sometimes include several members of our extended family. For the last few years, real life seemed to keep us from our Christmas Day trek to the theater. Yesterday, that changed. Mom got the two of us tickets to see the new Star Wars movie at our local Movie Tavern and, much to my surprise, in 3-D.

Now, if you don’t want spoilers — and I am going to try to keep them to a bare minimum — don’t read any further. I won’t promise not to spill some of the plot simply because it is difficult to talk about how I felt about the movie without talking a few specifics.

I’ll start with the theater itself. Our local Movie Tavern is in its last throes in its current location. In a month or so, it will move to a newer, more modern location in the same shopping center. So some of the amenities at the theater are, well, a bit run down. But that didn’t take away from the excellent service and comfortable seats. Add to the fact we chose a time to see the movie when most folks were still doing their family Christmas lunch/brunch/whatever, and the theater was probably only 3/4 full. (Note: the line was already starting for the standard def showing an hour and a half after our showing.) Good food and brew was ordered and we settled back to watch the film.

I will admit I was a bit worried about seeing it in 3-D. It’s been years since I’ve been to a 3-D movie and all I remembered were the headaches and fuzzy images, even with the funky glasses. Whether we hit the right position in the theater or technology has improved or both, I left with neither the headache nor grousing about fuzzy images or the inability to focus where the action was. There were a couple of times when objects seemed to come into view from my peripheral vision, there were no real “oh crap!” moments.

As for the movie itself, I went in with little in the way of expectations. I hated the prequels. Anakin Skywalker was, in my opinion, a spoiled, whiny brat. Then there was the stiff acting and even stiffer dialog. The fun of the original trilogy had been lost. With it, a generation of possible fans were left with a big “meh” because they saw the prequels in the theater but the original trilogy only on their home TVs where much of the awe was lost.

All I wanted was for The Force Awakens to be better than the prequels. After all, that shouldn’t have been that difficult. I doubted it would come close to the original movies. I even told myself to act as though I had never seen any Star Wars movie, read any of the books or seen any of the other related media.

Maybe I was helped by the fact that I haven’t read a great deal in the Expanded Universe. So I wasn’t as invested in what came before, especially once Disney announced that the EU would no longer be canon. Maybe, as a writer, I realize that what is written often bears little resemblance to what winds up on screen. Still, I had stood in line to see Star Wars on its opening day. I did the same with Empire Strikes Back and with Return of the Jedi. So there is a bit of a fangirl in there that can’t be denied.

J. J. Abrams drew me in with the familiar. When the scroll started across the screen and the fanfare began, I settled back and waited, hoping not to be disappointed. I smiled when the first few scenes brought memories of the first movie. Oh, it’s not a remake but there are echoes there to be seen. That is part of what I liked. It gave it a sense of familiarity.

I loved seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca back together again, wise-cracking and growling and howling. Han was older and grayer and even more worn — as he should be. You know there is a backstory to the two of them, especially when it comes to the Millennium Falcon, and you want to know what it is (don’t fret. You’ll get at least part of it during the course of the movie.) Princess Leia, now General Leia Organa, wears her years and her worries on her face and in her posture. I have to give it to Carrie Fisher for not having major work done and the studio for not doing major Photoshopping to make her look 20 years younger. She looks the appropriate age for the time that has passed since Return of the Jedi.

It was interesting to know that not all stormtroopers are created the same. Finn’s backstory, as it unfolds and you have to listen carefully for it, gives some hints into the changes between what we last saw with Return of the Jedi and (gag) Revenge of the Sith. I’m curious to find out what else will be revealed in the subsequent movies.

Odd little things I noted as I watched the movie was that I saw more female pilots for the Resistance that I remember seeing before. There is one notable female stormtrooper — Captain Phasma. I have a feeling we may be seeing her again and our heroes will rue that day, should it come. She didn’t strike me as someone you’d want to piss off and, well, they did. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t sit in a movie trying to figure out if the casting director got the right proportion of sexes and races and whatever. However, it was nice to see a more representative mixture in some of the scenes because crowds should not be one-dimensional, especially in a future where we have so many different species and races, etc.

My one disappointment was, to be honest, the villian. Kylo Ren in a lot of ways reminded me of Anakin (yes, yes, I know. There is a reason — maybe, kind of, sort of. Nope, not going there.) He pitches fits any pouty, spoiled 13 year old would be proud of. That weakened him, in my opinion, especially since there were times when he could have given us more evil and didn’t. Of course, I know why some of this is (it’s revealed in the movie) and can guess other reasons. Still, that sense of evil we had from Darth Vader and the Emperor wasn’t quite there in the new movie.

My pleasant surprise was Rey. I’ll admit to being worried about her. From what I’d read, Rey is Daisy Ridley’s first major role. That is always something to worry me. How will a relative unknown handle the leading role in a movie such as this. I am pleased to say she didn’t disappoint. Is she a great actress? No. But she was much better at conveying her character than either of the leads in the prequels were. At least I felt that way.

Now, in case you’ve read the reviews and posts saying she is a Mary Sue, I can say this. Yes and no. Yes because things do happen that make it so she can prevail, in a way, at the end. But then, if you look at that sort of plot manipulation as Mary Sue-ing it, so was Luke Skywalker. However, a lot of the criticism falls short when you really look at the specifics. I’ve seen reviewers and bloggers complain because Rey knew how to pilot a certain ship when all she was was a junk collector. First, we have already seen her piloting a skimmer-type of vehicle. Second, when she and Finn are racing to a ship to make their escape, she says she is a pilot and then, when they get to the second ship you can see her fumbling and making guesses as to what to do. And, hey, if the world is blowing up around me, I’d find myself a ship and try my best to get off, even if I’d never flown anything like it before.

Then there is the criticism about how she was suddenly able to fight with a light saber. Those complaints claimed she was “proficient” with it and was, again, being a Mary Sue. Well, if you have ever trained with sword or staff, you would see how wrong their complaints were. Yes, she activated a light saber — but so had another character earlier, also someone who had not been trained in its use. Yes, she fought with the light saber and she did eventually win. However — and this is a big however — if you looked at her fighting style and compared it to earlier scenes in the movie where she was fighting with her staff, you would see that she fought with the light saber in much the same way as she had the staff. No proficiency and a lot of blundering and stumbling as she figured it out.

One last criticism that I’d seen before going to the movie was about the culmination of the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren. It ends in what is basically a draw (although one was winning by that time) when a fissure in the ground opens between them. Oh, the cries of Mary Sue again by some bloggers. Nope. Not really. We had already seen fissures opening up and the reason for it. Sure, J. J. Abrams could have insisted the fight come to an end but, had he done that, there wouldn’t really be any need for future movies.

As for the denunciation of the Expanded Universe as canon, that was Disney’s call when it bought the rights to Star Wars. However, if you pay attention, you can see the movie tipping its hat to the EU in several places. I won’t say where, not yet because I’ve already come too close to spoilers as is. But if I, someone who didn’t follow the EU after the first few years, could see them, the real fans of the EU should be able to as well.

Over all verdict, a fun movie that kept me entertained for the duration. I didn’t look at my watch once and even my mother, who isn’t a real fan of the series, loved it. The Force Awakens is definitely much better than the prequels, in my opinion, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of A New Hope and definitely not to Empire Strikes Back. If you can suspend memory of the prequels and go in not expecting too much, you should enjoy it. I did and I will be going back later this week with a friend. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, I missed the first time through.

 

Bioware brings Dragon Age Inquisition to an end

I have a confession to make. It’s not a new one. Anyone who has followed me here or on Mad Genius Club knows my secret. I’m a gamer. It started innocently enough. When my son was young and all his friends had Playstations and Xboxes, he wanted one too. I relented, finally, when prices came down to something resembling reasonable. The only caveat I put on his gaming was that I had to play the game first. It was the same rule I had for movies. He was young enough that I wanted to know what he was going to see or play so I could talk with him about it if he had questions or comments.

Checking out games to make sure they were appropriate for him soon turned into a bonding exercise between the two of us. We gamed together. As he got older, we discussed games, and gaming systems. Which game was better on what system. Then we got into gaming on our PCs and that added a whole new level of discussion. Was it better to game on a system or on the PC? What needed to be done to upgrade the PC to play the latest generation of games? Yes, we became a gaming and techie household.

Well, my son is an adult now and we are both still gaming and talking about what games we play, what platform we play them on and what games are coming out. I don’t remember if I turned my son onto Dragon Age Inquisition (Deluxe Edition) – PC when it came out or if he turned me onto it. Not that it matters. What does is that Bioware redeemed itself in my eyes after the debacle that was the ending of Mass Effect 3 Digital Deluxe Version [Download]. (No, I don’t think the ending of ME3 was as bad as some of the fans do, but I will admit it could have been handled better. After all, it basically did away with the decisions we had made through three games. That didn’t sit well with many of the fans.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Bioware games, one of the strength of those games has always been the story. From Jade Empire to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to the Mass Effect Trilogy to the three Dragon Age games, story and characters have kept gamers returning and, more importantly, demanding more. All you have to do is look at the discussions that have gone on since the ME3 was released and speculation about what the next Mass Effect game might be.  Yes, I am one of those anxiously awaiting Mass Effect: Andromeda and hoping that Bioware continues building on the legacy of Mass Effect and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Anyway, back to DA:I.

If you aren’t familiar with DA:I, this is how Bioware describes it:

A cataclysmic event plunges the land of Thedas into turmoil. Dragons darken the sky, casting a shadow over lands on the brink of chaos. Mages break into all-out war against the oppressive templars. Nations rise against one another. It falls to you and your allies to restore order as you lead the Inquisition and hunt down the agents of chaos.

Explore, lead, and battle: Tough choices define your experience, and even one decision can change the course of what’s to come.

It’s fun. The combat can be challenging and it has, in my opinion, a high replay value because of the different classes you can play as as well as the different choices you can make during the game.

Even without the DLC packs, DA:I is a game that can keep you busy for tens, if not hundreds, of hours in a single playthrough. You can simply do the main mission quests or you can do all the side quests. Then there are all the “collectibles” you can go after. Yes, some of it does come down to simply grinding as you try to find the right group of bad guys to beat so you get the valuable you need to finish this side quest or that but, unlike so many games, grinding isn’t required to progress through the game.

There are three single player DLC missions for the game. The first,Dragon Age: Inquisition – Jaws of Hakkon [Online Game Code], was an interesting mission, taking players to new areas and giving them some challenges battles. The mini-boss near the end of the DLC was, to me, more difficult to defeat than the final boss. As with the main game, there are storyline missions, side missions and grinding if you want. Overall, I enjoyed Jaws of Hakkon and found it challenging enough to keep me interested.

The second DLC, Dragon Age: Inquisition – Jaws of Hakkon [Online Game Code], was less satisfying to me. Yes, it introduced a couple of new characters, non-playable but companions during the quest. Yes, we got to return to the Deep Roads, one of the more interesting areas we’ve visited in the Dragon Age universe. But the plot was only meh, in my opinion, and it felt too linear and felt like one big grinding exercise. No, that’s not quite right. It felt rushed. Yes, when I finally go back to do another playthrough of DA:I, I will play this DLC, not for the plot but for the items you can grab along the way.

The final DLC, Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser, was released yesterday. It isn’t as long as the previous DLCs and that could be seen as a detriment since it costs the same as the others. However, I didn’t care. This DLC did exactly what Bioware promised. It brought DA:I to a close and it set the stage for the next Dragon Age game (please let there be another one).

trespasser

Trespasser takes place two years after the end of the events of DA:I. It is your chance to find out what happened after the breach was sealed and peace came to Thedas (Of course, peace is never long-lived in that world). The basic starting point is that the Inquisition, which had been welcomed for its help in closing the breach and driving off the bad guys, is now seen as a danger. It is too big, too independent and too well armed. So a conclave has been called to determine what is to become of the Inquisition now.

Once again, you play as the Inquisitor. You have the chance to interact once again with your companions from the main game. But trouble is afoot. That becomes clear very quickly. So, while you leave your advisors to deal with the icky political aspect of what is happening, you and your companions go haring off to some new and some familiar locations in an attempt to track down not only who is behind the trouble but learn why they are doing it.

No, I’m not going to give spoilers here. Just know that this DLC, which I played through in about 4 hours, answers a lot of questions left from the main game and other DLCs. Heck, it even answers a few questions from the first two games. While it does give closure to the game — and you get to choose what will happen to the Inquisition and see the near future consequences of that decision — it also leaves questions open, questions that could be the seeds of the next Dragon Age game. It left me wanting to play the next game when it comes out because there is no doubt Thedas will soon be facing its greatest threat yet.

As I write this, part of me is sad to see the game come to an end. While we might not have seen the backstory of our Inquisitor like we did with Hawke in Dragon Age 2, the Inquistor and companions in DA:I are characters I want to see more of. Perhaps they will make appearances in the next game. But, that is not guaranteed. One character that has been with us since the first Dragon Age game is talking about retirement. Another, one we’ve known since the second game, has been — much to my surprise — raised to a position of political power. A third, who we were also introduced to in the second game, may or may not be the new Divine, depending on decisions you made during the main DA:I game.

Yet, sad that I am to have DA:I over, I have to applaud Bioware for how the did it. The decisions I made during the main game and other DLCs mattered and had an impact on the decisions and outcome of this final DLC. Because of that, and because of the quality of the not only the plot and lore in this last DLC but also the graphics, I give Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser a thumbs up. It is a must for every fan of the game.

One last thing, watch through the credits for what very well may be a hint about where the next Dragon Age game will take place.

I’m still reading

As I noted in yesterday’s post, real life has been a bitch the last week or so. Because of that, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. This has been reading for pleasure, to escape the problems that have been beating me over the head. So, John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series has been burning up my Kindle and I’ve been loving his take on the zombie apocalypse. I’ll continue the reviews and thoughts on those book over the next few days.

Today’s post is sort of the brainchild of a conversation I had yesterday with some friends who love reading and good stories as much as I do. I know, I know. Folks have different definitions of what “good” means. For me, it is a story that entertains me. Especially at times like this, I want a story that will transport me to a different time and place. I want characters I can care about and a plot that intrigues me. It doesn’t have to make me think deep thoughts but, if it does, that’s fine — as long as it entertains. Without that entertainment factor, I’m not going to keep reading.

And that brings me to another series of books that I’ve loved and have re-read I don’t know how many times. That series is David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. I’ll admit, the series is getting a bit long in the tooth and I’m not as big of a fan of the books Weber has co-authors on. But that’s just me. I still will buy the mainstream books in hard cover, something I very rarely do for any author these days.

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington) is the first book in the Honor Harrington series. It was also my first exposure to Honor. Honor is like many of us, and it doesn’t matter whether we are male or female. She is confident as an officer but, as a person, she is riddled with insecurities. I identified and understood a lot of what made Honor tick, especially early into the series. She felt herself the ugly duckling because she was tall and gangly and, in her own words, had a face like a horse (paraphrasing). That wasn’t what the world saw. But it was what she saw when she looked in her mirror. She saw the adolescent Honor, not the grown woman. Extremely shy, the victim of an attempted sexual assault when she was younger, she had baggage that carried baggage.

In other words, she was human and I liked that about her.

I’ve seen the complaints that Honor is nothing but a male character with breasts. Why? Because she is a star ship captain and she is a whiz at tactics and she manages to win almost every battle.

Big frigging deal. She also is female enough, no human enough, to have weaknesses. She hurts, deeply, when the people under her command are injured or killed. She has a temper that resembles a star going nova, something I can certainly identify with. She has her blind spots and her weaknesses. Heck, anyone who doesn’t drink coffee is far from perfect.  😉

One of my favorite scenes in any of the Honor books is the one where she has finally screwed up the courage to go on a date. This is a very big deal for her because she has never quite dealt with the emotional scars left by the attempted rape. Add in her mental picture of herself and the very firm conviction that she is the ugly duckling and it is all her best friend, Michelle Henke, can do to convince her to not only go on the date but to do something as arcane and foreign to Honor as wear makeup. The scene where Mike helps her with hair and makeup is both humorous and, to a degree, heartbreaking. For those of us who have ever been insecure in our personal lives, this scene can really hit home.

But the best part of the series? To me, it is seeing Honor grow as a person and as an officer. Slowly, she begins to open herself to others outside of her family and Mike Henke. She suffers loss and comes damned close to flushing her career down the space toilet as a result. She is a woman — and an officer — who feels things very deeply and who holds a very strict code of conduct. When she breaks that code, or comes close to it, she suffers. As a friend, she is someone you would trust at your back, no matter what. As an enemy, well, you don’t want her as an enemy.

In my mind, watching the development of Honor over the course of the series has been a lot of fun. Her growth as a person and an officer is one of the reasons I’ve continued to follow the mainline series even if some of the shiny has worn off the plots. It is also an example of how you an put a message — in this case, belief in yourself and being flexible enough to learn and grow, as well as a number of others — into your fiction without beating your reader over the head with it. I highly recommend the Honor Harrington series, especially the early books where you can see Honor turning into the confident officer and woman she is in the later books.

An update and reading for pleasure

Sorry for the silence, everyone, but real life has been kicking my butt. The rehab on the injured Achilles is ongoing and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, my 80+ year old mother has not been doing real well this past week. Nothing terribly serious but bad enough that it has impacted her not only physically but emotionally and that, in turn, impacts me. Things are finally starting to loo up there, so I hope life is getting back to normal.

Like a lot of folks, when I get stressed I read. I read for enjoyment and for escape. I turn off the editor hat and all I want it to be taken for a ride that takes me away from whatever is worrying me. It may be humorous or it may be serious. It may take me on flights to other worlds or drop me into a dystopian future. It doesn’t matter as long as the plot makes sense, it grabs me and holds me and I care for the characters. Hell, there can even be a message — just don’t preach at me. Let it be part of the story, not so much buried but carefully woven so that it isn’t glaringly obvious and takes away from the story. Remember, if I want a sermon, I’ll go to church. Believe me, my pastor is much better at delivering a sermon than any writer I know.

So when real life hit so hard earlier this week that I could not deal with writing or editing, I reached for my Kindle and looked at my to be read pile. It’s a big pile but there were a couple of things that jumped out at me. One of them actually had me kicking myself. Sitting near the top of the list was Strands of Sorrow (Black Tide Rising), the fourth book in John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series. A smile touched my lips to see the title and I started to open the book. Then I realized it had been awhile since I had read the previous titles in the series. Some of the details were more than a little fuzzy. So, in stead of opening Strands of Sorrow and beginning it, I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I opened a book I had already read and started rereading it.

The first book in the series is Under a Graveyard Sky (Black Tide Rising Book 1).  When I first picked up the book, I did so more because I have enjoyed most of Ringo’s work. I will even admit I was hesitant because this was unlike anything Ringo had written before, at least on the surface. Then there was the fact it was about zombies and, well, I don’t like zombies, at least not in my books. But Ringo, as he has done so many times before, surprised me. To begin with, the book wasn’t the typical Zombie Apocalypse book and these weren’t your usual zombies. These weren’t walking dead out looking for brains. Nope, the ZA was the result of something that has always been one of my fears — someone creating a virus of sorts that is released and sweeps the globe like a pandemic, or worse.

Then there was the fact that the main characters weren’t bad ass soldiers and the bad guys weren’t major corporations or, gasp, the government. The real bad guy is some unknown, faceless man or woman who, as the ZA spreads, quickly becomes almost irrelevant as the survivors simply struggle to survive and thrive.

Yes, thrive. You see, the real heroes in the Under a Graveyard Sky happen to a family. An ex-pat Aussie who is now an American citizen, his wife and their two daughters. They, along with his brother, are what most of us would call preppers but that just doesn’t begin to explain what they are. Preppers don’t hold a candle to what Steve Smith and his family were. Steve and his brother Tom knew what could happen in the world of the here and now. They knew it might come from war or it might come from terrorism or it might come from someone just being stupid. They had plans in place and they had prepared to execute them based on the circumstances surrounding whatever the emergency might be.

This is a family that will do whatever it takes to stay together and to survive. But there is more. This isn’t a family that just strikes out to find an isolated place to wait out the ZA. Sure, that might have been the original plan but when they start coming across survivors, and when the scope of the ZA starts to become apparent, they realize they can’t just ride it out. If humanity is to survive, they have to do something. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option.

If that means doing things no “civilized” person would do, you do it. You try to protect and shield your children the best you can but you recognize that you’re no longer in Kansas and this isn’t Oz. You regret that your kids don’t get the childhood they deserved, that there will be no prom, etc., but it is better to live than die.

Are some of the scenarios presented in the book unrealistic? Sure, by the standards of what we have right now. But, if I found myself and my family in the middle of a ZA, I hope we could cope half as well as Steve Smith and family.

Oh, Ringo also avoids the one mistake so many do in this sort of book. Not all of his characters are heroes or villains. There is no black and white line between good and evil. There are more than a few characters, minor to be sure but necessary to the worldbuilding, who are what could best be called drains on society. These are the ones who refuse to pitch in and do the work, often repugnant by our standards, to survive. Whether they are lazy or privileged in their prior lives and unable to adapt, it doesn’t matter. Instead of instantly culling them out of the the society that is slowly growing around what will come to be known as Wolf Squadron, Smith gives them a chance to change their minds. Even if they don’t, he doesn’t kill them. At least not outright. Eventually, they will be given ships or landed someplace where they can either survive by their own means or not. He is not responsible.

Nor should he and the others of Wolf Squadron be. We’re not talking here about culling out the sick and aged. We are talking about letting those who refuse to pull their own weight sink or swim by their own hand. A hard choice? Sure, but when you are in the middle of a ZA, it sure as hell beats letting them drag everyone else down into death.

Is there a message in the book? I don’t know if Ringo would say there is or not. To me, sure. There are several. Be prepared. Be aware. Be informed. Family. Loyalty. Duty. And not necessarily in that order.

I’d go on and discuss the next book in the series,To Sail a Darkling Sea (Black Tide Rising Book 2), but this has already gone on long enough. I’ll talk about it and the other books in the series over the next week. For now, all I can say is if you haven’t read Under a Graveyard Sky (Black Tide Rising Book 1) yet, do so. Don’t be fooled by the “zombie” theme. This isn’t your usual ZA novel and it is a rip-roaring good time that will leave you thinking and wanting more.

 

 

 

“Verified Purchase” continued — again

And the circular responses continue. After receiving Steve’s response to my follow-up query about whether or not reviews posted by KU subscribers were listed as “verified purchases”, I sent yet another email to Amazon asking for clarification. Specifically, I wanted to know if there were any plans to change the fact reviews posted by KU subscribers were not given any additional weight over non-verified purchases. While books downloaded as part of the KU program aren’t technically purchased, the fact that those subscribers pay to be part of the program ought to count for something.

So, as I said, I sent another email and waited for a response.

This morning, well after the 12 hours they say you are supposed to hear back, I had the following email from Zac J:

When a product review is marked “Amazon Verified Purchase,” it means that the customer who wrote the review purchased the item at Amazon.com.

If a review is not marked Amazon Verified Purchase, it doesn’t mean that the reviewer has no experience with the product -– just that we couldn’t verify that it had been purchased at Amazon.

I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

This is where I start calling bullshit. First because the response doesn’t address my original query. Second, and more importantly, Amazon can and does identify if a book as been downloaded as part of the KU/KOLL programs.

Now, I’m smart enough and old enough to know that this is a first line response and is basically a canned response. Key words in my query brought up the “appropriate” response and Zac J simply sent out what his program told him to. So, as I did before, I used the feedback form you get with emails from Amazon to let them know that they did not answer my question and to restate it. This time, I restated the query in simple words and pointedly asked who I should contact if they fail to respond to my request for information. We’ll see what happens next.

All of this is not because I’m unhappy with Amazon or the KU program. Far from it. However, I know a number of reviewers who use the KU program to borrow books. These books they then review. They do this, even though it costs them approximately $10/mo, because they know the authors do get payment for each page read under the KU/KOLL programs. They would rather do that then get free books. In other words, they are rewarding authors, even if they don’t like the book and will be giving it a negative review. I appreciate that and I think it should be noted if a book review is by a KU subscriber.

It is a simple enough fix and, in my opinion, one Amazon should implement post-haste.

More on Amazon “verified purchase”

I promised an update when I heard back — again — from Amazon. I had the following email waiting for me when I got up this morning:

Hello Amanda,

My name is Steve, I am a Senior Customer Service agent.

It was brought to my attention the comments that you left in the survey.

When someone borrows your book from the Kindle Unlimited or Kindle Owner’s Lending Library programs and they leave a customer review it won’t appear as a verified purchase. It will appear with the other reviews as normal and it won’t have more or less relevance in the product page of the Kindle book. They will not be classified as verified purchase since the customer is not buying the book.

I hope this is helpful. Have a great week and thanks for using Amazon KDP.

Regards,

Steve R.

So, despite the changes in their review policy — or maybe because of them — Amazon is not going to give the same weight to reviews by people who borrowed a book under the KU/KOLL programs that they do someone who purchased the book. I can sort of see where they are coming from, but that doesn’t mean I like it, at least not where KU is concerned. After all, you aren’t “purchasing” a book under either program.

However, KU is a subscription service. Amazon is getting money from its customers in the program. For those reviewers, it is my belief that the company should not their reviews as “verified KU download” or something of the like. That lets potential readers know that the review did come from someone who actually downloaded and, hopefully, read the book. That is something I will be passing on to Amazon later today.

But, for now, I recommend everyone who reviews a book they downloaded as part of the KU program to note in the very first paragraph that you read the book as part of the KU program. That won’t do anything about the weight Amazon gives to the review initially but it will help give more validity to your review, at least for me, than a review from someone who may or may not have read the book or who read a pirated copy.

Review — Goodnight Stars

I’ve written before about how my love for Science Fiction began. I was young, late elementary to early junior high, and staying at my grandmother’s house in Ardmore, OK (also known as the armpit of the world, at least to a kid with no mode of transportation other than her feet and who was much too far from the library). My grandmother wasn’t much of a reader, something that still amazes me because my dad and most of his siblings were voracious readers.

Anyway, I’d read the dozen or so books my grandmother had and went searching for something to do. Like any self-respecting — and bored — kid, I started poking around in closets and dark corners. Off the kitchen was a bedroom with a closet that had a door that was almost as tall as the room was high. Being an old pier and beam house, and being in need of a lot of tender loving care, the door had warped. Now, that made it a challenge. I pulled and leveraged and finally got the door open and found a treasure trove of books, records, magazines and more.

I don’t know how many hours I spent just going through the books. I found things like early editions of If and other SF/F magazines. That was all it took. My love of Science Fiction was born.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying my first love in SF was short stories. Somewhere along the way, I wandered away from them. Too many I’ve looked at over the last few years have been heavy on message and short of plot or characters I can care about. Not so with the Hugo nominated short story Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet. (You can download a copy of the story here. It will also be included in the Hugo packet.)

end is nowGoodnight Stars, from The End is Now (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 2) (Volume 2), is a lot of ways reminds me of the short stories that used to pull me in and hold me through to the end. Without spoiling anything, at least no big spoilers, this is the story of three friends trying to survive in a world that has changed practically overnight. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an end-of-the-world story where hope isn’t an option. Quite the contrary, hope and determination, friendship and family are themes that run through the story.

But don’t get me wrong. It is also a story that makes you think. Not only did I find myself wondering what I would do — and where I would go — if the Earth was suddenly struck by a cataclysm that threatened life as I knew it but I also wondered what I would do in certain specific situations.

Ms. Bellet has spun a tale that grabbed me and held me throughout the story. I found myself cheering for the lead, Lucita “Lucy” Goodwin. Lucy hates the name Lucita and, like numerous girls in middle school and high school, did whatever it took to look and act like the “blondes”. Growing up with curly red hair at a time when all the cool girls had long, stringy dark hair, I could identify with wanting to blend in. I could also identify with the conflict she’d had with her mother and how, now that she faces the loss of her mother and possibly her father, she wishes she had said and done things differently.

But most of all, I appreciated the fact that, while Lucy didn’t need a guy to rescue her, she also didn’t instantly turn into some superhero. When she had to act to protect those close to her, she did so. But it wasn’t without second thoughts or regrets later. She is scared and brave, suspicious and trusting, loving and distrustful, all at the right times. She is, in other words, human.

My only complaint about this short story is that I liked the characters, and especially Lucy, so much that I want more. I want to know more about them and about how they fare after the story ends. That, to me, is what makes the story successful.

Well done, Ms. Bellet.

I highly recommend this story.

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