Review: Clockwork – Mystery Anthology by John M. Floyd

ClockworkClockwork by John M. Floyd

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn’t my normal fare. It’s a collection of mystery shorts, mostly what you might call ‘cozies’. I chose to read it because it was written by a college friend’s dad, I like a good mystery every now and then, and I also like to read southern authors, especially ones from my home state of Mississippi.

Mr. Floyd’s ability to write well is beyond question. The descriptive elements are weaved in unobtrusively, and always leave you seeing exactly what’s there without being overly intricate. The modern stories range in timeline from the 80’s to pretty close to present day. Some of the stories in this particular anthology are a bit anachronistic, and the plot would no longer work because of current tech; however, as long as you can suspend that part of your brain and live in the moment of the story, it works fine. There are a few that jump back to the wild west, or just after, that are actually my favorites.

I do know for sure that it’s not the genre I prefer for entertainment. The short story format is where my problem lies, I think. I prefer more intricate, drawn out, complicated plotlines than a short story can provide. There weren’t many that I couldn’t immediately see where the plot was going, and many of them were tropish. There were a few twists that were interesting. If you like that sort of thing, and many people do, then you will probably enjoy the book more that I did. Taste is subjective… some people like hot sauce and others don’t.

As for characters, again, short stories make for shallow development as a general rule. There are only a couple major ones from the anthology that stood out to me.

The main two were recurring characters who appear in several different stories. Sheriff Jones and Ms. Potts, while possibly endearing to fans of shows like Matlock or Murder She Wrote, were kind of annoying to me. As a writer, I should be able to describe what bothered me about them, but all I can come up with is that they gave me an ‘ick factor’ that made me not like them. It’s a personal preference, no doubt.

Conversely, I can’t praise The Warden’s Game enough. That story is absolutely riveting, and is, by far, the best in the anthology. It has an old western feel, even though it takes place in rural Alaska. It is a tale whose theme is of justice found from mysterious sources. I think the fact that it is also one of the longer stories makes it more appealing to me. The characters are able to be developed in more depth, which increases my concern for them. The plot, while not unique, still managed to pull me in because of my like for the theme.

All told, I can recommend the book to those who like to read mysteries, especially cozies. I give it three stars and call it an Interesting Variety Read for me.
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Review: Black Tide Rising (Anthology – Book #5)

Black Tide Rising (Black Tide Rising anthologies Book 1)Black Tide Rising by John Ringo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An anthology of stories in the Black Tide Rising universe created by John Ringo. A great mix of well known authors play around in the sandbox of the master of Mil-SF. It’s a great adder to the overall universe. Typical mix of good and mediocre found in an anthology, but mostly good. The final Ringo story also might leave you gape-jawed at the potential for things to come in the series.

TLDR: The Flint, Williamson, and last Ringo stories are worth the price of the book. These three get 5 stars. There are other good ones as well in the anthology. My average rating for the book is 3 stars (36 over 12 stories), and I call it a Worthwhile Read.

Individual story ratings below. Beware of spoilers (I try not to, but they are short stories, so…)

Never Been Kissed by John Ringo (2 star)

Very short. Musings of Faith about the fate of all the people she knew.

Up on the Roof by Eric Flint (5 stars)

An excellent story of a group of survivors who make an excellent choice to ride out the apocalypse atop a gasoline tank farm. Really good setup, detailed enough without being boring, and good character development in a short time. I would like to read a full novel about this group.

Staying Human by Jody Lynn Nye (1 star)

Missed the mark on several key points about the behavior of the zombies in this universe. Sentiment is all over the place and turns very preachy about being better and not seeking revenge against the ‘poor infected’. Waste of my time.

On the Wall by John Scalzi & Dave Klecha (2 stars)

Annoying. Some humor, but of the obnoxious variety. The entire story is dialogue, which makes it read like an episode of Gilmore Girls. One of the characters is such a douche that he needed to be thrown to the zombies.

Do No Harm by Sarah Hoyt (3 stars)

An ER nurse must come to grips with ‘kill or be killed’ as the hospital is overrun with zombies. Good story. Great character development for a short story length tale.

Not in Vain by Kacey Ezell (3 stars)

A group of cheerleaders and their coach must step up if they want to reach a safe haven in the zombie apocalypse. Excellent character development, but too short. I want more!

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Grandpa? by Michael Z. Williamson (5 stars)

Grandpa is a vet, but his grandkids think he’s a gun hoarder that needs an intervention… until the zombies hit. Best one in the book. Grandpa was right, and he ain’t taking no more of your crap, you little shits!

Battle of the BERTs by Mike Massa (3 stars)

Interesting story of the teams sent out to control infected on the streets of New York before everything gets completely out of control. This one ties in directly with events form Book 1 in the series.

The Road to Good Intentions by Tedd Roberts (3 stars)

A small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains could be a refuge for some, but only if they can keep outside influences from ruining things. One man struggles with his own religious issues as the local pastor calls his survival of the fever a miracle and sets him up as a beacon of hope. A decent story with good details, but the ending is abrupt and left hanging. The use of religion as a plot device is bothersome.

200 Miles to Huntsville by Christopher Smith (2 stars)

A post-war Vet turned cop, his dirty-cop partner, and the prisoner they are escorting find themselves in a cultish Hicksville, Texas as the final shoe begins to drop. I didn’t care for this one mainly because of the use of religion as a plot device. The writing and characters were ok, but the blurring of good/bad would not be something I’d want to keep reading for much longer.

Best Laid Plans by Jason Cordova & Eric S. Brown (2 stars)

A group of thieves are determined to rob the Louvre despite the zombie apocalypse. Interesting, but too short to get to know the characters well. The humor is quirky and not all that funny to me (others might find it more so).

The Meaning of Freedom by John Ringo (5 stars)

An interesting interlude that shows the true nature of the ‘beta’ zombies that has been hinted at in the main series. It raises a huge moral question, which I won’t spoil. This one is a thinker, unlike the ‘killing infected’ or ‘using infected for medicine’ questions that I found to be trite in the main series itself. This story is a must read for the series.

Happy Reading!

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Review: Strands of Sorrow (Black Tide Rising Book #4)

Strands of Sorrow (Black Tide Rising, #4)Strands of Sorrow by John Ringo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another winner in the Black Tide Rising series. This one finally brings the recovery of America back to the home shores. The hyper-effective Faith Marie Smith, who has now become the central character of the series, continues to push the limits of get it done action and zombie stomping. Luckily, she is surrounded by survivor types that come up with more ingenious ways to rid the land of its post-human plague.

The action in this one is almost non-stop. The logistics-speak is so finely woven with the next big zombie killing spree that you hardly notice it. I continue to learn new mil-speak each book I read, and I absolutely love to see what goodies that go boom will come from tackling the next hurdle in the race to save as much of humanity that remains. Characters continue to grow, and some new one get added to give yo more to like. Even the screw-ups seem to get a chance to shine.

From more guns on a helicopter than should ever be thought about, to tomahawks raising an entire host of infected, to the unparalleled bad-assery of an M1A1 Abrams (named Trixie of course) that pirouettes like a ballet dancer on a zombie juice slip-and-slide, this book will most assuredly peg out your kick-assometer! I give it four stars and call it a Kick Ass Read!

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Review: The Frontier Saga: Fall of the Core: Netcast: 03

Fall of the Core: Netcast 03 (The Frontiers Saga)Fall of the Core: Netcast 03 by Ryk Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The next big reveal. Who is the mysterious Unknown, and why is the bio-digital plague happening? This is the one where we find out, but don’t think that’s the end. There’s new twists and new threats, but a way to overcome them might just be available… if the cure isn’t worse than the disease.

Bring on Netcast 04! It’s a great story, but my impatience is killing me. Three stars and I call it a Leash-Tugging Read.

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Review: Who Takes No Risk

Who Takes No Risk (The Frontiers Saga: Part 2: Rogue Castes #7)Who Takes No Risk by Ryk Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure if it’s the heavy foreshadowing, or if I’m developing my Ghatazak abilities to see potential outcomes, but the books in the series are becoming somewhat predictable.

This one was good, but not great. I was not surprised at any of the events that occurred. There were several that were meant to be highly emotional or shocking, but they did not impact me that way. The typical battle scene, although very complex and creative, was not as exciting as it usually is. It could just be me and my current mood though, so take that with a grain of salt.

I do hold out hope that a reckoning is on the way for the overreaching General of the Sol Alliance. There were some very convenient paths crossed to bring some damning information to the right ears. We’ll see how that turns out. I do hope that the hero of the series finally stops being so damned self-sacrificing and goes after a little bit of revenge. If he doesn’t fix things so they last, then what’s he fighting to accomplish?

One criticism I do have is that two characters have been built up over the last several books, but they have been pointless and useless. This episode they were captured and conscripted into the enemy’s army. All the things they had been working toward were shown to be pointless and, in fact, poisonous to the Corinari rebellion. The only reason I can see for even having them is that their trainer turns out to be someone important from the past, but it’s been so long since I read about him that I really don’t remember who he was as a character. I don’t like throw-away characters and plot-lines. It makes me feel like I’ve wasted my time after having read it, especially if it was boring to begin with. I hope that lack of tie in does not continue to be part of the writing style of this series.

Anyway, enough rambling on this review. I give it a solid three stars and call it a Good Serial Read.

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Random Free Story – 3-11-18 (The Tricksters’ Game)

Gratuitous Cute Kitten Ovelord

Random Free Story – 3-11-18 (The Tricksters’ Game)

I have really dropped the ball on this bi-weekly story thing. I should have known as soon as I decided to schedule a ‘thing’ it would immediately flop. My apologies to anyone who is actually reading this blog. I won’t make any further promises without hedging them, so… instead of a scheduled ‘Free Story Friday’ blog post, this is now the ‘Random Free Story’ blog post.

This story is the result of my first attempt at customizing some content as a D&D DM. Our group is playing the D&D Adventure module: Lost Mines of Phandelver. Circumstances have led to an ongoing theme of really bad luck (aka rolls) for one character, so I decided to incorporate something into the story to accommodate for it. The Trickster’s Game is my opening hook for my players. It is meant to bring them in on the intrigue, while allowing them to exercise their anti-meta-gaming skills. If you don’t play D&D or RPG, I’m sure that last sentence was a foreign language. Suffice it to say, it’s all for funzies!

Enjoy. And if you are a D&D player, feel free to steal for your own campaign. Drop me a comment if you do.

P.S. – No promises, but I may be dropping more things list this in here.

*The images below are not mine. They are from the Internet & used as illustrations for the characters/items in the D&D Module. Copyright is unknown.

Beshaba – Goddess of Misfortune

Symbol of Beshaba

Tymora – Goddess of Luck

Holy Symbol of Tymora

Halia Thornton

Sister Garaele

The Tricksters’ Game

A Dungeons & Dragons: The Lost Minds of Phandelver Story Arc Introduction

by  J.D. Beckwith

A vision of a room coalesces for the dreamers. The entire party is present. They sense each other, but cannot speak, and their vision is not guided by their own will. They can only follow what is shown to them. It is unnerving, but not exactly threatening. They float as if slightly overhead and observe the surroundings.

Halia Thornton, owner of the Phandalin Miner’s exchange, sits in her small common room near the fireplace. She sips a mulled brandy while staring out the window at the lightening storm that rages, thinking thoughts unknown to the observers. She clinks a very expensive looking wedding band on her widow’s finger against the glass in her hand. Her head turns as she hears a knock at her door. She finishes the drink in a quick swallow and gets up to answer it.

The viewpoint changes to follow her, hovering just off to the side. She sounds gruff when she opens the door and says, “Yes? Oh, hello Sister, what brings you to my home this late on such an inclement evening.”

Sister Garaele, Acolyte of the Shrine of Luck is standing outside, a bit wet, but holding a sodden cloak to the side. “May I come in?”

Halia frowns. “I was just about to retire, actually. Can this not wait until morn…” She suddenly gasps, head tilted back and eyes rolling to show the whites for a second.

Garaele smiles. “That is you, isn’t it Beshaba?”

The posture of Thorton’s body changes from its normal stiff and proper to lithe wariness. When she speaks again, it’s with the same voice, but drips with condescension. “Yes, dearest sister.” She looks Garaele’s form up and down. “My, you do choose the ugliest of mortals to use as your vessels. Look at that nasty scar! Bad luck, that.” She laughs sinisterly, then whip-like changes to a threatening and demanding tone. “Why are you here?”

Garaele, immune to her rapid demeanor changes, simply continues to smile. “I’m always curious when you are playing near my affairs.” Having not yet been invited in, she pushes inside, forcing the other woman back. She drops the wet cloak on the porch and closes the door behind her.

“Your affairs?!” Beshaba’s host growls. “This one is my affair. I’ve been watching him for some time now.”

“Indeed? Interesting.” She smirks a knowing smile. “But don’t worry, he’s not the one I’m interested in. It’s one of his companions.”

“Oh. Well, maybe I should see what I can do about those as well then?”

“Ah ah ah, sister dear.” Garaele waggles a finger at her. “Do remember the last time you tried to interfere with one of my chosen.”

“You did NOT win that fight, you self-aggrandizing bitch!”

“I got what I wanted in the end, but no matter.” She crosses her arms and leans against the door. “You know, that does give me an idea. We haven’t played each other for any decent stakes in quite some time. Are you up for a game?”

“What!?” Beshaba barked a laugh. “Over these?”

“Why not? But if you want higher stakes, why not Phandalin as well?” She lifts a hand and points at Beshaba’s nose. “Loser… leaves this party — whatever’s left of it, or course — and the town, alone for… oh, let’s say, the next 200 years?”

“Intriguing notion…” Beshaba’s eyes squint in conniving thought for a moment. “Alright, sister, I’ll play your little game.”

“Excellent!” Garaele stood up and claped her hands together. “May the best goddess win!”

“Oh, I intend to!” Beshaba grins at her sinsterly, the switches to a stern face once again. “Now leave this place! I have plans to make.”

“Hmmph.” Garaele grunts a laugh. She turns and opens the door. The cloak on the porch jumps to hover above her head as she walks into the rain. “Goodby sister. I’ll call on you again soon to set the bounds of our little wager.”

She flicks a hand and the door slams just an inch from Beshaba’s face.

Beshaba growls. “Bitch!” She turns back toward the room, and snaps both fingers in the air.

There’s another gasp from Halia, who seems to return to herself with fingers held aloft. She stumbles a bit, clutching her head. “What the…” She yells, “Denilya! Denilya where are you!”

“Yes, mistress Thorton?” A diminutive woman steps through the door from what appears to be a kitchen.

“Pour me a drink. And be quick about it!” Halia takes a seat in a nearby chair. The lighting and rain have picked up again outside.

The vision starts to fade as the observers recede from the shared dream. They hear one last fading command from Halia to Denilya as they return to their own dreams. “And tell that buffoon to get in here. I’m tired of waiting on him!”

Each of the observers are soon swept up in their own dreams as their nights rest continues. By the morning, the vision is faded and mostly forgotten except for the vague feeling of angst, as if something or someone is watching and manipulating.