Category Archives: Book and Movie Reviews

Waiting Weapon – The Clash of Humans and Me’Aukin

I just completed Waiting Weapon, a science fiction novel by fellow Champagne author K.M. Tolan. It was a satisfying read and one that required my full attention to follow the sharp twists and turns of its plot.

The story is of the clash humans and the Me’Aukin in the future. Faster-than-light space travel is a reality in Tolan’s future, but few inhabitable planets exist and the competition for them is fierce. Humans with their fusion weapons have driven the Me’Aukin from their planet. The Me’Aukin, though, are masters of nano-technology and have left behind a Waiting Weapon to destroy the colonizing humans.

Me’Aukins Rick and Jamie were discovered as embryos and raised by human colonists. Rick is the novel’s protagonist. Me’Aukins are similar to humans, only shorter, with olive-colored skin, large doe-like eyes, and with long fingers. However, there is more to them than meets the eye. Their psychic or telepathic skills are far beyond ours. Rick wants justice for his fellow Me’Aukin, yet he can also sympathize with the humans that raised him.

Events move quickly along. Rick and Jamie realize they’re pawns between different human factions. They flee to search for their fellow Me’Aukins. They want to disarm the Waiting Weapon, but also to reconcile and meet their own people.

What made the novel for me is Tolan’s intricate and fascinating portrayal of the Me’Aukin, which is a proud species. There is some similarity between the Me’Aukin and old Japanese samurai society in that clan and family, and honor and personal history are all important. But, there is so much more to the Me’Aukin people. For them revenge beyond the grave is still possible and marriage ten times more intimate.

I recommend Waiting Weapon.

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Size Doesn’t Matter If You Are in Love

I recently read Shawndirea: Chronicles of Aetheaon: Book One by Leonard D. Hilley II. The book’s captivating cover art caught me and the book fulfilled my expectations. I recommend the book to any readers of the swords and sorcery genre.

Shawndirea is a pint size faery that technophobe biologist Ben snags in his butterfly net, destroying her fragile wings in the process. It’s love at first sight. Or is there something magical about their meeting? Ben vows to return the plucky faery to her homeland to repair her wings even if he has to go through Hell to do that.

He does have to go through Hell. Eventually they reach her world of Aetheaon. What follows is well-told tale of swords and sorcery. I haven’t read any recent books in this genre, although I’m a fan of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion and the Lord of the Rings. There are many similarities between Moorcock’s books and this one.

This book is the first of what appears to be a sweeping saga. There are many subplots, which hopefully will be resolved in future books.

I look forward to reading more books by Mr. Hilley starring Shawndirea and Ben.


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Xenophobia, a unique first contact novel

Xenophobia is a good first contact novel, but could be better. I quickly became invested in the main character, a Dr. Bowers, and the U.S. Rangers that guard her. They’re in the midst of an African civil war when first contact occurs. Surrounding them are warlords with too little brains and too many drugs and guns. Can Bower and the Rangers get to safety?

The plot was good, the aliens were unique, and I cared about the characters. The Rangers were not just cookie cutter soldiers.

I give the book three and a half stars. It has two flaws. First, there are occasional long preachy soliloquies that slow down the book if you read them and are unnecessary if you don’t read them. They are a clear case of author intrusion. The other flaw is that the reader learns of most the human/alien interaction by Bower and the Rangers listening to the radio. Yeah, it’s all fiction, but I could believe what was happening to Bower was real. The reports on the radio just seemed like made up stuff. I think the author should have had another protagonist, perhaps a brother of Bower, who directly experiences the human/alien confrontations, rather than have a periodic telling of the first contact.

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Authors lust over getting good reader book reviews on Amazon. Good reviews help drive sales, plus it also feels good. Therefore, as a courtesy, I make an effort to review each book I read. I take this responsibility very seriously. I put a chunk of time and thought into my reviews. The hardest part, for novels, is the star rating I assign.

Fiction is subjective. I don’t have a problem giving a non-fiction book a low rating. Hey, if it has errors in fact or logic, it deserves a low rating. Fiction isn’t nearly as easy.

I typically look at a few five star, three star, and one star reviews before buying a book. Too often, I see a review that says, “I received this book free in return for an honest review. Now I don’t normally read (fill in the genre, it could be romance, sci fi, fantasy, or …).” Then why did you accept the book? Invariably the book’s given a three star rating. I mentally toss out that review. A bad or mediocre review isn’t useful unless it’s for a genre the reader enjoys.
Similarly, there are different writing styles. I don’t think my rating should reflect my like or dislike for a writing style. I started Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren. I didn’t finish the first page. Many people like the book. The book has sold over a million copies and was nominated for a Nebula award. Personally, I didn’t care for its muddled stream-of-insane-consciousness writing style. Some readers have thought the same. Should I give Dhalgren a one star rating? I did hate it, but that was a reflection on my dislike for the style. I’d be rating a writing style, not the book itself, if I gave the book one star. I chose instead to simply not rate Dhalgren.

So my fiction reviews tend to be four or five stars with an occasion three stars. I focus on how imaginative the plot is, how engaging the characters are, and overall how well the book entertained me.

What are your thoughts on rating and reviewing books?

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The Waste Land: the Crusades, love, and war with a supernatural twist

The Waste Land is an engrossing historical novel with a supernatural twist and a veneer of a present day thriller.
A disfigured Research Assistant “discovers” an ancient manuscript dated to the First Crusade in the library of a stodgy, bankrupt English College. This manuscript apparently is the basis of Chretien de Troyes’ Roman de Perceval, the first account of the Quest for the Holy Grail. To the annoyance of the Research Assistant, the College Master enlists a now-not-so-well-selling Best-Selling Author to produce a book based upon this manuscript. The sales of the book are to bail the College out of its financial predicament.
The bulk of The Waste Land is the Best-Selling Author’s creation based upon the found manuscript. This novel is a little hackneyed at times. Having the Pope talk about glass windows as “new-fangled” seems a bit trite. Nonetheless, this alternative supernatural telling of the First Crusade through the eyes of young monk/knight Hugh kept me at my kindle. Hugh manages, at least according to the Best-Selling Author, to stay in the thick of things. His telling of the Crusader’s crucial victory at Antioch fueled by the discovery of the Holy Lance and the assistance of soldier saints is especially good. The author clearly did a lot of research.
My main complaint was that too much was left unresolved at the end, regarding both Hugh and the connection between the present day story at the College and Hugh’s tale. This forces the reader to buy the sequel to get closure.

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Hitchhiker by Audra Middleton

Monday, I turned over the Writing Process Blog Hop to Audra Middleton. As promised, here is a brief review of her most recent novel, Hitchhiker.

Ainsley, an art teacher in the small Eastern Washington town of Hawk Lake, has the “hitchhiker” gene. Under the right conditions, this gene gives her the ability to “hitchhike” on the senses of another person for a brief time. The head of an outcast, inadequately funded unit of the FBI discovers Ainsley’s ability and persuades her to join his paranormal band of misfits.

I found myself rooting for Ainsley as she grew in confidence and conquered her fears while attempting to bring criminals to justice. Her colleague Dove/Dylan, is an even more endearing oddball. He is most brilliant off his meds, but then his schizophrenia starts to take over. The supporting cast is memorable including her free spirited mother and her retired-military father.

The tension cranks up when things go amiss after the team takes on an unauthorized operation. I look forward to more Ainsley and Dylan in the future.

You can buy Hitchhiker from her publisher, Burst Books, or other e-book retailers including Amazon. Audra’s blog will be at:

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My Favorite Aliens

A Fire Upon the Deep won Vernor Vinge the first of his six Hugo Awards when his novel shared the award in 1993 with Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book. Vinge’s imagination is apparent throughout his book, but what for sets the book apart are his unique aliens, the Tines. Avid sci fi readers become alien jaded. There are the fearsome bug aliens, the hive brain aliens, the humanoid aliens, and so on. A handful of aliens stick in my mind. One is Nessus, the neurotic Pierson’s Puppeteer in Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Ringworld won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1970.

With their three legs and two heads, Pierson’s Puppeteers look like a committee constructed them. Tines don’t even look alien. You could see one at the neighborhood park without realizing it. So, what is a Time? I don’t want to spoil the experience of discovery for you. Check out Chapter Two in A Fire Upon the Deep. For me it was like “did I read that right?” I reread the passage. “Yes, I read that right. What’s happening here?” I read the remainder of the chapter very carefully. Like with Nessus, I grew rather fond of my favorite Tines.

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A Time Traveler and the Black Plague Meet in Doomsday Book

Doomsday Book is a time travel book…or is it a historical novel? The year is 2048 (well maybe as I will explain later) and Kivrin, an earnest undergraduate female historian, is sent back to the Oxford, England of 1320. She doesn’t arrive there, but instead somewhere else, sometime else in Old England. Meanwhile a deadly influenza epidemic sweeps across present day England. The nasty virus hits Kivrin soon after she arrives. Things get worse. She doesn’t arrive in merry Oxford, but in a tiny hamlet where a minor noble family has taken refuge from the Black Plague raging across England. Willis weaves parallel stories of present with that of Kivrin in 1348. Kivrin’s tale mesmerized me. Will she survive the flu? Will she and her new friends survive the plague? Will she be able to find the drop site for her retrieval back to the present? Willis’ depiction of small village in Medieval England rang true and made a perfect backdrop for her nail biting drama.

In the present day, the flu ravages the ranks of the time travel scientists. Will they be able to organize Kivrin’s retrieval? A sprinkling of farce leavens this story. A strict sci-fi fan may have some issues with the 2048 story as cell phones, voice mail, and even answering machines don’t exist. Maybe Willis originally wrote the story in the 1970’s. A speaker at the PNWA Summer Conference a few years ago, who knows Willis, said the book’s technology reflected Willis’ own level of technological savviness. I decided to ignore the issue and enjoy the story. Don’t expect a quick read. This is a long book. Instead, get cozy in your favorite chair, pour yourself a good glass of port, and discover Kivrin’s fate.

I put books into three categories: the fun reads, the reads I don’t finish, and the books that make a mark on my memory. Doomsday Book is one of the last. It was a rare joint winner in 1993 of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. It shared the Hugo Award with Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. The two winners couldn’t be more different. Vernor’s book takes place in deep space and features some of the most imaginative aliens I’ve encountered in sci-fi. I’ll review A Fire Upon the Deep next week.

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My Science Fiction Reading Quest


When I started writing science fiction, I realized how dated my reading in the genre was. It was time to get reading. I started with the Hugo Award winners and nominees. I didn’t read all of them. I didn’t even like some, which emphasizes how reading is such a personal thing and a book one person loves, another might hate. For me, I’ll take a good plot and straightforward writing.


This reading quest led me to John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game among others. I also read some classics that somehow I missed, like Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Currently I’m the fantasy/science fiction world of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, which I first read years ago.


Over the next weeks, author by author I’ll explore my experiences on this reader’s quest.




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The Book Thief is a must see

Just saw The Book Thief . I give it five stars.

Don’t expect car chases or GCI graphics. Expect a simple story well told.

Ten-year-old Liesel tries to make sense of the world in Nazi Germany. She sees her young brother die and her mother, a communist, surrenders Liesel to the state. Her new foster father Hans charms the reclusive Liesel and teaches the illiterate girl to read. The midnight arrival of a young Jewish man then changes her world forever. The brave humanity of Liesel’s family stands starkly against the Nazi’s inhumanity. I wept for the last ten minutes, although it doesn’t take much in a movie or book to get me crying. Death narrates and proves himself more human than many of those whose souls he takes.

Sophie Nélisse plays Liesel to perfection. I nominate her for an Oscar. Geoffrey Rush does a great job as Hans.

I saw a preview of The Book Thief over a month ago, but decided to first read the book. I found the first third of the book rather slow going, but ultimately I think the book better captures the essence of Liesel’s bewilderment and pain. Also, it better addressed the insidiousness of the Nazi disease. So, see the movie and read the book. Image

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