Steel World by B.V. Larson— quick review and commentary

Steel World cover(Okay, y’all, I am going to be straight with you; even my quick review contains a spoiler or two.)

When I began the Kindle version of Steel World, I was all set to hate it. The main character and action seemed to be lifted right out of one of the first-person shooter war games that my son loves and I don’t. Then, the main character, who was actually playing such a game, is rousted into reality by his mother. His sweet little life of being a bored student has just been interrupted by some economic woes. Then I got interested.

In some ways, this story is a re-tread of many combo “coming of age” stories, melded with some “gung-ho” military action. But, I rather liked this take on the soldier who never dies. Larson’s imagination is really clever, and he writes in such a way to bring the reader into his vision. The cast of characters is a bit flat, but often military yarns suffer from that malady. It’s hard, practically and emotionally, to get attached to people who will either be transferred or killed off, so relationships are a bit more shallow. Very real, but shallow, none-the-less.

The basic premise of this novel is that future mercenaries will be Planet Earth’s contribution to the Galactic economy, as humans are very good at making war. The Galactic Empire’s contribution is the machine that makes clones of the soldiers’ bodies. So, the “undying” part is that when the soldier bites the dust, under the proper circumstances, he can be transferred into a new body and sent back into the fray. This saves lots of training, of course, as experienced personnel are not lost nearly as often as if they stayed dead.

Steel World is the first in a series of novels, and I will probably pick up part two, as I really did enjoy B.V. Larson’s take on future warfare.

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The Temporary Agent— review and commentary

Recently, I read the Kindle version of The Temporary Agent by Daniel Judson. While well-written, this novel didn’t grab me and keep my attention. One of the reasons that I (or most folks) read fiction is to get involved with some characters who are embroiled in conflict to see how those characters manage, thus entertaining me and providing some catharsis as well.

In The Temporary Agent, the opening scene has the reader immediately seeing that this is a novel of death and dire straits. “Cahill was no stranger to suffering…but the night he lost Erica was without a doubt the longest of his life.” This novel has really short chapters, and the first five comprise Part One where the exposition and action swiftly intertwine, and I was really getting interested. Then came Part Two, which changes the point of view character and the pace of the story. As the next fifty five chapters unfold (yes, that’s a lot of chapters) the pace does pick up, but the second POV character, who turns out to be the titular character, is not as interesting as the guy in part one. So…that is a huge flaw. Basically, the author grabbed me in part one, but let go of his grip in parts two, three, and four. Again, the novel is well-written with lots of interesting details and plenty of action, but I just didn’t care as much about the characters that came after those in the first part. And, for the reader to be really interested, the main characters have to be multi- dimensional and engaging, and it helps a lot of the secondary ones are fleshed out, too.

Fans of espionage novels, military action, or crime fiction will probably enjoy The Temporary Agent. While I did finish it, I kept thinking that it would have been a better story if the POV had stayed with Mr. Cahill and his lost love, Erica.

The Winter Over— quick review

I just finished a Kindle book, The Winter Over, by Matthew Iden, and it is a very suspenseful yarn. The setting is a station at the South Pole, and the scenario is that a select group of scientists and support personnel are going to spend nine months, most of it in total darkness, at the station. Of course, with just a few people confined to a fairly small space, having genial personalities is a requirement. During the exposition of this novel, an astute reader might begin to question whether or not this diverse group was properly screened. Perhaps the greatest flaw in this story is trying to keep the cast of characters straight.

(spoilers ahead)

The main point of view character is an engineering tech named Cass, who seems to be able to repair darned near anything, as might be expected, but she also has some skeleton in her mental closet. An accident, which might not be an accident introduces a “who dun it” plot line, but the story is more complicated than that. Indeed, as the group goes through the winter over, and as the situation becomes more and more stressful, in part due to intentional sabotage, Cass comes to realize that this station has become some sort of psychological experiment. The author skillfully blends the man vs. man and man vs. nature conflicts inherent in this setting.

Despite the extreme cold, things get hotter and hotter in the station, and the suspense builds. The ending, while not especially satisfying, is certainly organic. Overall, this is a good book, and I intend to see what else this author has written.

Sex, Lies, and Sweet Tea— a quick review

Yep, it is a book, an ebook as well as a paperback. Kris Calvert’s story is actually well-written, and I especially enjoyed the back and forth point of view between FBI Agent, Mac Callahan, and his new found love, Samantha Peterson. Each of them sees something special in the other, right from the outset, so their relationship moves swiftly. There are a few plot twists, mostly in the romantic realm, but the story kept me swiping the pages. There’s a great supporting character, Sam’s aunt Mimi, and a few cardboard cut-outs, such as the staff at Callahan’s inherited mansion. Still, it is a good read for the money (free for Kindle readers.)

Some other reviewers have stated that it isn’t realistic. Ho-hum. If I want reality, there are better ways to get it than via a novel. I rather like my fiction to be, well, fictional. As long as the author doesn’t push things too far, of course. Ms. Calvert does challenge the reader’s patience from time to time, but overall this novel is a pleasant way to spend a few evenings, for readers of romance, mystery, or suspense. The southern setting is just like sweet tea— both tasty and refreshing.

How to “Arrest Proof Yourself”— and why you should consider reading this, as a law-abiding citizen.

I have to explain that I am still reading this book, but I thought I’d gotten my money’s worth after I read the introduction. No kiddin’. Author Dale Carson, a former cop and FBI agent, explains that the concept of innocent until proven guilty is no longer valid. With the advent of computerized “background checks” a single arrest, even when the party is not prosecuted or convicted, can have permanent and costly consequences. To prove this, he relates the tale of a person who was arrested because of an identity theft situation, who was never able to get a job in the financial industry.

Also, due to the ever growing size of the United States Criminal Justice empire, your (and my) chances of being arrested for something have never been higher. More cops, who are all evaluated by how many “bad guys” they arrest, must feed the criminal justice machine, which in turn provides employment for lawyers, judges, and even the cooks at the jail. With every chapter, the author piles on the reasons to fear being arrested. Being convicted is worse, of course, but the damage is done when the ticket is written, or the paperwork forwarded to one of the clerks who is feeding off the system.

The book purports to help readers become “invisible” to cops. I hope it helps with that, but the author’s comments on how this morass came to be and why it isn’t going away are a tad depressing.

Despite all that, this book is something that should be required reading before getting a driver’s license, with a refresher read prior to college, marriage, the birth of a child, and other rites of passage. I can’t say it strongly enough—buy the book, read the book, pass the book on to anyone brave enough to leave the house.

The Magnolia Story


A friend and I were talking about how much we love the HGTV show Fixer Upper, and she was saying she had just read the book about the hosts, Chip and Joanna Gaines. When I heard that, I’m like, “Hey, can I read it?” So, the next time I saw her, she had the book for me.

Now, I have to confess that I am not a stellar housekeeper, nor am I a good decorator. However, I am genuinely inspired by the show, and I did find the book fascinating. It is told from two first person perspectives, those of Joanna and Chip. A total difference in fonts makes this quite easy to follow. Joanna begins with a discussion how she was approached (in 2012) by a television production company, wondering if the offer to film the two of them working on homes was a scam. Chip was sure it was some sort of scam, but Joanna wasn’t convinced, so she talked with them a bit more. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history, of course. We know it was real, because Fixer Upper is in season four as I write this. So, Joanna goes all the way back to when she began dating Chip.

There’s a good bit of humor, as well as some insights into how difficult their lives often were, before the cash that comes with a hit television show enabled the duo to become the owners of the very valuable portfolio of companies that all bear the name of Joanna’s favorite flower, the magnolia. While the book is about the hosts, it does indeed concentrate on their businesses.

Rather than spoil it for potential readers, I will just say that the book is a more in-depth history of a somewhat familiar story. Chip had already begun buying up and fixing up small homes before they married. While he was a student a Baylor University, Chip realized that college students needed a place to live near campus. Their first home together was one of the rentals— the first available at the end of the semester. That home was the first one Joanna decorated, on the cheap as they were pretty much broke. Soon, they realized that together they could make some money flipping houses. Over time, their reputation was so good that locals began asking them to help with remodeling projects, large and small.

Because she enjoyed home decor so much, early on, Joanna found a small shop that they were finally able to purchase, and it was there that they first used the term “Magnolia” for a business. As the family grew, their businesses both expanded and contracted, but there is a common thread of hard work, good fortune, and a belief that things would work out for the best. Much has been made of the the pair’s faith in God. For me, this seemed to be secondary to their work ethic, but it is a constant aspect of the book, which is published by W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, which publishes religious works.

For fans of the television show, this is a very good read. Yes, I’d like even more about how Jo learned design and how Chip learned to be an expert contractor, but the book is general in nature. There is a promise in the end that there will be a Joanna Gaines design book forthcoming, so I shall have to wait.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Magnolia Story.