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.

Shades of Treason

This novel by Sandy Williams gets good to great reviews on Goodreads. Quite honestly, it took me a while to get through it, but I finally finished. The plot begins with an interesting premise: Ash (also known as Ashdyn or Ramie, as her official designation is Lieutenant Ramie Ashdyn) is some sort of super soldier. She’s in a combo psych ward/detention situation, because she killed her team, i.e. her fellow soldiers. Not good.

On hand to debrief (or cure) her is Rhys “Rest in Peace” Rykus, who is apparently a really sexy guy. He also trained her and is considered to be her “fail-safe”which is some sort of control figure. As the story unfolds, some of Ash’s history is revealed by either flashbacks or comments from characters, either to Ash or about her. The romance is stronger than the other subgenres (military fiction, fantasy, science fiction) and I would classify it as that, but others might disagree.

That Ash is the victim of some conspiracy seems to be the only logical outcome of the initial conflict; otherwise she is guilty as heck and ought to be executed. The reader is along for the twisting, turning ride as Ash tries to remember what happened, and others try to figure out if she is guilty or innocent. For me, the characters did not engage my empathy, thus suspense suffers. When I read about Honor Harrington (David Weber’s famous heroine) I know she will come out ahead, but I care about her. When I was playing Tomb Raider, and yes, that dates me a bit, I was sure Lara Croft would be on top at the end of the game, and I cared a lot less. Ash is like Lara; she is bad-A and will overcome.

Shades of Treason (An Anomaly Novel) (Volume 1) is available as a Kindle book and in paperback.

Sidelines— musings of Lois McMaster Bujold

Writing reviews can be difficult, because what each reader wants differs. I love a good story or a good essay, with what I term “food for thought.” Often, I am disappointed, but not always. Of the authors I have read, one who seldom disappoints is Lois McMaster Bujold. I am a huge fan of her Vorkosigan novels, and apparently other folks like them, too.

As she is getting older, and as publishing has changed rather a lot since she got her first contract in the mid-1980s, she has been experimenting by putting some items on Amazon’s Kindle platform. No doubt she will get some money, and perhaps win some new readers. Bravo!

Probably, Sidelines: Talks and Essays by Lois McMaster Bujold will mostly appeal to fans, however. This volume is a collection of pre-written speeches, “Afterward” essays, travelogues, and blog posts. Each one is prefaced with a short intro that puts it into “context” which is helpful. There were times that I had to use the “define this word” function in my Kindle app (which does not happen to me very often) because Bujold is really smart, and times when I laughed aloud, because she is also quite adept at incorporating humor into her writing.

My absolute favorite part is when Bujold describes her favorite fan letter, penned by a lady who was reading the first Vorkosigan book, Shards of Honor, and was so engrossed that she did not want to stop reading while doing an errand at her bank. So, this fan is standing in line, reading Shards, and when she finally got up to the teller, she was informed that she could not get any change, as all the money had been taken by the bank robber. Turns out that the bank had been robbed while the reader had her nose in the book, and the reader failed to notice. Asked by a security guard for her description of the robber, the fan was a bit embarrassed, so she simply said she could not remember any details.

For me, Bujold’s works have been a pleasant way to spend some time, but in the future, she may well be one of the authors who elevates science fiction into what will be known as science fiction literature. Indeed her work is already the subject of a scholarly book by Edward James. As for Sidelines, it is certainly food for fans who want to know more of the stories behind Bujold’s many stories.

A Sword into Darkness- a review

Recently, I read a nifty “first contact” novel by Thomas Mays, entitled A Sword Into Darkness. This novel has several interesting characters; if it were on film, I’d say it has an “ensemble cast.” It’s also a very good read, and for once, this story lives up to its positive Amazon reviews.

As it opens, Nathan Kelley, former naval officer, is recruited to join tycoon Gordon Elliot Lee’s effort to build a space going vessel capable of handling a first contact (or space war) mission against a large spaceship that has been coming from Delta Pavonis for long enough that scientists have had plenty of time to become worried. Very worried, actually.

This novel is mostly what I would term “hard science fiction” because the author brings considerable knowledge and creative energy to explaining how the ship that the earth dwellers plan to launch is planned, constructed, weaponized, and propelled. While there are many characters, they are not as well-developed as the hardware. That said, I have read any number of novels where the world-building and the ship building were great and the characters merely cardboard cut-outs. Mays does considerably better than that, but the slant is more hard sci-fi.

Often, such stories are short: Threat detected, analyzed, hero intervenes, earth is saved, and all in 90,000 words. A Sword into Darkness is a long book, takes place over a number of years, and a lot happens. As it only costs $3.99 as of this post, that is a real bargain. Amazon says the print novel is over 300 pages, so that’s just over a penny a page!

According to the description, Mays has already been successful in publishing short stories, but A Sword into Darkness is his first novel. Certainly, it is a very good debut novel. He’s an author to watch, for sure.

BTW, I am not having any luck at all in downloading cover images from Amazon and uploading them here, so just imagine a generic space battle cover with the title and author’s name. While there is nothing wrong with the cover, not having it depicted here should not dissuade anyone from reading A Sword into Darkness.