Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Review: Sketches of a Black Cat - Full Color Collector's Edition: Story of a night flying WWII pilot and artist by Ron Miner

Great Stories, Interesting Art, and More Would Have Been Even Better

Ever wonder who paints those pictures on the front of aircraft?  In the book, Sketches of a Black Cat, you’ll meet one such pilot and artist in the memoir written by his son.  Howard (Howie) Miner was a WWII Navy Seaplane pilot and although he probably never painted his plane (they were black for night operations), he was also an artist.  He sketched many other works for his buddies and himself, from pictures of family to scenes from his area of operations – the South Pacific.

The book moves quickly, covering training and two tours of duty in less than 250 pages including numerous photographs.  Through the first tour, the pace is perhaps a little too fast, but then the story slows a bit and the reader gets a closer glimpse at Howard Miner’s life and his art.  Although he flew several types of missions – humanitarian, bombing, and others – the search and rescue of downed pilots dominated the book.  Many of these operations were accomplished at great peril and involving incredible skill.  Landing in heavy seas “…tested the mettle of the metal” and holes from missing rivets and bullets were plugged with golf tees and pencils.  Not every rescue was a success, of course, and some of the deaths seemed cruel twists of fate.  Life between flights is also described, where rations seemed to vary from feast to famine and weather from picturesque sunsets to hurricane force winds and torrential rain.  But with the aid of the occasion R&R, Howard and his buddies persisted and generally did so with a sense of humor.

The artwork in the book included photographs of people, notebooks, maps, letters, and Howard Miner’s sketches.  The drawings were both pencil and in color, the latter appearing mostly later in the book.  Photos of people seemed to predominate and I would have liked to see many more of Howard’s sketches.  For the potential reader, the quality of the computer rendering may be a question.  On my 7” Amazon Fire, the pictures were crisp and clear, although the writing was sometimes too small to read.  I also viewed some of the book using the Kindle app on a PC and here, I could enlarge the pictures so that even the smallest details were apparent.

Overall, the pictures and stories from Sketches of a Black Cat will give you a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the skills, persistence, and life of the pilots and crew that flew the Black Cats in WWII.  It’s a story well worth reading…and seeing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tidbits for Authors

With the book reviews and the occasional self-promotion, I sometimes forget that my main blog page is called “My Writing Life”.  So, where’s the writing news?  Right here, of course.

First, the Kindle Scout Program is dead, a program where readers nominated the books they wanted to see.  I used it once and had plans to do so again.  Not that I felt I had a great chance of winning, with its $1500 advance, 5-year renewable Kindle Press publishing contract, 50% royalty rate, all supported by Amazon marketing.  But where else can you get several hundred page visits for a soon-to-be-released book at no charge.  Of course, ‘no charge’ is one of the reasons I didn’t expect to win.

If you haven’t tried Kindle Create yet, I’d suggest you do.  There is both a beta version of an app for formatting Kindle eBooks and a beta version of a plug-in for MS Word for paperbacks.  I’ve played around with both and have generally been impressed.  If they really work out (which seems extremely likely), there goes the whole formatting line of business unless of course, you don’t want to look like every other Kindle book.

I also saw that Amazon announced that there were 1,000 Kindle Direct Publishing authors who made $100,000 in royalties last year.  Hold on, let me look.  Nope, didn’t quite make that list….

Happy writing,
Picture by mpclemens from Pleasant Hill, United States (NaNoWriMo: the home front) (]

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: The Policeman’s Daughter by Trudy Nan Boyce

A Police Procedural that Feels Real

Lil’ D, Dirty Red, Q-ball, Man.  They aren’t the nicknames of anyone I know, but after reading The Policeman’s Daughter, it feels like I do.  Boyce vividly brings to life the people and the setting of an area of Atlanta known as the Homes.  It’s a tough, violent neighborhood and a difficult life, on the edge of poverty, ruled by a drug gang, forgotten by all…except Detective Sarah Alt, aka Salt.  Salt patrols her beat with guts, with intelligence, and most of all, with compassion.  But what part of that compassion represents her need to feel close to her father, a cop she found dead by his own hand when she was just ten?  How far will she go to cling to that memory by walking in his shoes?  It’s a tense ride, as Salt tries to come to grips with her past without sacrificing herself, her home, and those around her.

Boyce weaves the tale from ‘war stories’ on the job – talking a violent man into the wagon, watching kids play in a fire hydrant on a sweltering summer day in Atlanta.  As a result, the book feels a bit slow at first.  But soon, the plot centers around the murder of Shannell, a woman who does whatever is necessary to get her drug fix; and Stone, the violent lieutenant of the local drug gang.  There are places where the story became somewhat muddled.  At one point, Stone sets up Lil’ D to be arrested for drugs, but I wasn’t sure why.  To establish his dominance?  To test Lil’ D’s mettle?  In another, a fellow policeman, Pepper got a flat tire.  Or was it shot out?  Was this supposed to be a warning, because if so, none of the police seemed to make the connection, except perhaps Salt.  (And yes, the nicknames Salt and Pepper seemed a little too cute at first, but that bit of syrup is soon lost in the suspense.)

The Policeman’s Daughter is not the kind of mystery you can solve by paying attention to the subtle cues, and so, identify the killer before the author comes to the finale.  Boyce, through a character, tells you that.  It’s a world teetering on the edge of collapse, where anyone could have snapped and killed Shannell.  Even so, the conclusion is a bit shocking.  And in that ending, Boyce draws the themes of past vs. present, her father vs. the force to a satisfying conclusion.  Only the apparently miraculous recovery of Salt’s eyesight seemed too convenient.

Overall, The Policeman’s Daughter is driven by Boyce’s rich depiction of life in the Homes and Salt’s growth as a person and a cop.  It’s well worth the read.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

An After Tax Day Special (assuming you still have a buck)

A 2018 EPIC Ebook Awards Finalist

A 2017 Wishing Shelf Award Finalist

ONLY 99 cents, Now until April 24

“…a cleverly disguised romance filled with plenty of tech, espionage and a cool twist.” 5-star Amazon Review

Get Your Copy Now:

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review: One Shot by Brian Gates

A familiar theme, very well-done in an enjoyable book

A man finds clues about the future, then puts himself in the line of fire to save the day.  That’s the crux of One Shot, and I’ve been there, done that…well, at least, I’ve read that.  But while it’s a familiar theme, it’s one that Brian Gates, the author, does it quite well with a likeable hero and an interesting writing style.

Jack Shot, the main character, is described as ‘content,’ but aimless might be more appropriate; he seems to have few goals beyond keeping his job and getting a date with an attractive coworker, Abby.  That all changes, however, with the first clues into the future, and suddenly, he is thrust into heroic action.  That action takes a toll, as suffers injuries that would put a mere human down for the count – concussions and third-degree burns among them – but he keeps fighting.  Realism might suffer a bit at these points, but the tension was there.  These exploits also turned Abby’s head, making her seem a bit shallow, but subsequently, she shows herself to be gritty and determined.

The book is written as a narrated memoir – also familiar and also well done.  The tone is easy, conversational, and largely, about Jack’s life.  The chapters, however, often begin with a quote, a bit of folksy philosophy, or a platitude, like ‘love’s a bitch’.  It might sound strange, but it consistently encapsulated the story and provided a transition back to the action.  And despite the informal, storytelling tone of the story in general, Gates pens numerous clever turns of a phrase.  I found this mixture of the unique and the informal both engaging and often, quite funny.

For me, the book gets a bit heavy-handed on the fantasy and philosophizing about the battle between good and evil at the end.  And after reading it, I wasn’t certain if it was actually a call to end our moral indifference, or just a segue to a possible book 2.  But either way, it detracted little.

Overall, One Shot is an excellent read.  The theme may seem familiar, but the characters, the mix of writing styles, and the turns of a phrase made it a pleasure to read.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Book Review: The Delphic Oracles in Egypt and New York by PanOrpheus

Historical Fiction/Fantasy with Loads of Humor from Dry to Bawdy

With a penname of PanOrpheus, this author has a lot to live up to.  Pan is the god of the wilds and friend of the nymphs.  Orpheus is a legendary Greek musician, poet, and prophet, said to be able to charm anyone with his music, even stones.  While I can’t guarantee that The Delphic Oracles in Egypt and New York would charm a stone, I found it both humorous and thought-provoking.

The book is filled with references to people and events that cut across time and space in odd and unpredictable ways…like spotting Sinatra singing jazz in 500 BC Egypt.  Or traveling in the company of an Oracle who played on Broadway…leaping lizards!  Or discussing the connection between computer software implicated in the 2016 election and Egyptian embalming fluid.  Say what?  The implications of some these happenings and sightings seem clear; others are a bit of a mind twister.  And when you tease one of them from your gray matter, you start wondering – what else have I missed.  (I never did figure out the importance of Mallville, PA, for example.)

I also enjoyed the author’s sense of humor, which ran the gamut from dry to bawdy.  I’d quote something from Phoebe at this point, but it might be difficult to find much without a four-letter word or two…or three.  (And I’d like to keep this review family-friendly.)  Humor is so central to this book that if you eliminate the final Interview between the Reporter and the Mage, it can be seen as a buildup for a play on words.  At that point, it had me groaning…in a good way.

As for downsides, there were few and they were minor.  First, the formatting of my ebook version took some strange twists.  While that didn’t affect the story per se, it was distracting in places.  Second, the book introduces a lot of names at the beginning – some real or close to it, others are total fiction, and several are incarnations of someone you’ve already met.  It can be confusing.  It does come together but checking out the author’s biography on the Amazon book page also provided some helpful context.

So, my recommendation.  Read The Delphic Oracles in Egypt and New York.  Like Phoebe would say, it’s a d@#& fine book.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Book Review: Tomb of Aradia (Lost Origins Book 1) by Antony Davies

An Epic Adventure…That Takes Some Epic Reading to Complete

Do you like bigger than life, epic action/adventures?  If yes, then you may have found the right book in the Tomb of Aradia.  It has everything you could ask for.  A young, dashing protagonist, Jules, who’s a world-class, parkour practitioner, even calculating complex maneuvers on the fly (like the length of a bungee cord needed to land softly – imagine what happens if you make a mistake).  He also boasts encyclopedic knowledge over an immense range of topics.  The story boasts buried cities and ancient civilizations with strange, perhaps mystical powers.  You’ll also find globe-trotting action from Old Town Prague to a chateau in France to the far reaches of Mongolia.  It has scenes that will bring to mind movies from Indiana Jones to James Bond.  But even though it has all the elements of a spell-binding, epic adventure, their implementation hurt the pace, making the book somewhat of an epic read.

The story centers around Julian Siebeko (Jules), a young, black freelance treasure hunter.  But if you have a stereotype for that profession, I’d guess he’s nothing like it.  He’s impatient, almost hostile toward the thoughts and plans of others, yet he constantly ends up in trouble himself.  He repetitively changes loyalties among three competing factors – a group of unorthodox archaeologists, a ruthless billionaire, and the head curator of the British royal family.  Then, he’s forced to seek help from one of the others to extricate himself.  He’s also driven by an insatiable urge to retrieve a bangle stolen from his dying mother, but when he secures it, he just finds other troubles. True, the book sees Jules maturing, but the ‘go your own way, then get help’ routine gets repeated too frequently.  Additionally, some things about his character are simply inexplicable.  For such an extremely well-read and intelligent individual, he talks like he never finished 3rd grade (“I ain’t a hacker on the level you people play by, but I do what I gotta.”).  Sure, every character needs their own voice, but this one makes no sense and seems degrading.

The settings, while far-flung and in some cases exotic, are not used well.  In general, the action could have occurred anywhere from rural Montana to the boroughs of New York.  The opening scene, for example, is set in Old Town Prague, but the ‘landmark’ that’s mentioned is a “fried chicken place.”  Sure, there are KFCs in Old Town, but that’s hardly symbolic of a city brimming with incredible architecture.  And later in Rome, they “…whizzed by the fountain of the Piazza Navona,” a place that’s usually so crowded it’s difficult to walk.  The setting descriptions didn’t do anything to create an image.

So, overall, the Tomb of Aradia has all the elements of a pulse-pounding, epic action/adventure.  Unfortunately, I labored a bit watching Jules complete savant-like analyses and perform world-class physical feats, then repeat his mistakes while explaining himself using inexplicably poor language.