#BookReview: A Time Travel Christmas by Karen McQuestion

Heart And Magic In A Short, Quick Read. This is a perfect Christmas story for anyone who has ever wanted to spend just “one more day” (as Diamond Rio once sang) with a lost loved one at Christmas. Through some scifi/ magical time travel, our lead here gets to do just that – going back to one pivotal night when her grandmother was just a young girl that would change her grandmother – and her entire family – for generations to come. As someone who has been very vocal about wondering about just such tragedies in his own grandparents’ lives, this was particularly moving. But even more generally, this is a great tale that somehow manages to mashup both The Family Man (one of my all time favorite Christmas movies) and Balto (a movie my youngest brother was *obsessed* with as a kid). While lighthearted overall, there is a very real, very visceral threat of imminent danger – and even death – hanging throughout the middle 80% ish of the tale, and this really drives how quick of a read this is – you won’t want to put it down for fear that on the next page someone might die. And yet, the Christmas magic – complete with family and snow (meaning Yankee Christmas, as it rarely snows at that time in the South ;)) and plenty of warmth and surprise – is also present throughout the tale. Very much recommended.

This review of A Time Travel Christmas by Karen McQuestion was originally written on December 2, 2022.

#BookReview: Almost Midnight by Caroline Swart

Action Packed Series Starter. This is one of those series starters that ends on an “oh SH!T” cliffhanger – and while it could possibly be debated if the story should have continued on from there in a longer tale, it also told a complete story to that point, so I’m personally comfortable leaving the rating at 5* rather than deducting a star for blatant cash grab. But I could also see other readers making a different call on that point.

Still, for what the story actually is up to that point, and even through that point in making the reader want the next book *right this second*… this is a truly great book. The story has elements of a wide variety of known and not-as-known scifi, from Amy Adams’ Arrival to Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 to Jeremy Robinson’s Unity to Meg Pechenick’s Vardeshi Saga, and yet still manages to feel fresh and unique even within its lost memory / alien invasion / sudden awakening type of story.

This is one that contains several elements of several different genres (including a few teases of romance), so certainly nearly everyone will likely find something here to like – and thus the book could have near universal appeal to some level.

Overall a strong tale well told, and I’m truly looking forward to the next book here. Very much recommended.

This review of Almost Midnight by Caroline Swart was originally written on November 14, 2022.

#BookReview: Dinner On Mars by Lenore Newman and Evan DG Fraser

An Army Fights On Its Stomach. This was a fascinating look at what it would actually take to have a survivable human colony on Mars (or really on any other planetary body not Earth), starting from the same place Generals have known for Millenia: Ok, we got our people there. How do they stay there? First, they need food. From there, the discussion – and the book *is* written as an accessible third person discussion between its coauthors and the reader – centers on how to actually grow food on Mars for a population larger than one. (Sorry Mark Whatney and Andy Weir, but while your science may work for one person in a survival situation just trying to get off planet, it won’t work for a livable colony trying to ensure it doesn’t become the Mars version of Jamestown.) The science and bleeding edge/ near /future tech that Newman and Fraser discuss is utterly mind-boggling, but smaller scale experiments even in such places as The Land Pavilion in EPOCT at Walt Disney World (a personal favorite ride in the entire compound, specifically for the science it displays in action) show the promise of some of these exact techs. Overall a much more generally approachable discussion than other similar books from active literal rocket scientists (including Buzz Aldrin’s Mission to Mars, where he discusses his proposal for moving people and materiel between planets), this one really only has two flaws: First, it discusses COVID quite a bit, as it forced the interactions of the coauthors and their research along certain paths and even opened the general idea to begin with. I am on a one-man crusade against any book that discusses COVID for any reason, and an automatic one-star deduction is really my only tool there. The second star deduction is for the dearth of any bibliography. Yes, there were footnotes frequently, but even these seemingly barely amounted to 10% of the text – which is half to one third of a more typical bibliography in my experience, even with my extensive experience working with advance reader copies. Still, overall this is an utterly fascinating discussion and something that anyone who is serious about expanding humanity’s population beyond low Earth orbit seriously needs to consider. Very much recommended.

This review of Dinner On Mars by Lenore Newman and Evan DG Fraser was originally written on July 2, 2022.

#BookReview: Aeon Rising by Matthew Mather

This week we’re looking at an action packed series starter from a thrilling scifi author. This week we’re looking at Aeon Rising by Matthew Mather.

Action Packed Series Starter. This is one hell of an action packed series starter for Mather, and one that despite a few similar general ideas (such as crippled communications due to space activity) with his CyberStorm series never gets quite as dark as that one can. Indeed, the darkest thing here is unfortunately all too common, but to reveal it specifically would be a spoiler (though even here, Mather manages to put a scifi twist to it in furtherance of his ultimate series objectives). The different types of action here are reminiscent of everything from nearly-every-Amazon-based-action-movie-you’ve-ever-seen such as Predator or Anaconda, just to name a couple, to more urban based ala Daniel Pyne’s Sentro Security or a Mission Impossible / Jason Bourne type. Throw in some elements similar to Deep Impact, as well as a few other elements of a few other popular tales that would be a touch spoilery to add here, and you’ve truly got a promising start to a potentially long series. This book is mostly set-up without ever truly *feeling* like it is mostly set-up – the action is tightly paced, as is the exposition, there is just *so much here* that by the end it is quite clear that this series is intended as a trilogy at minimum. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Such Big Dreams by Reema Patel

Big Lift That Mostly Hits. This is going to be a very different book for most American/ Western readers, as it is essentially an “Annie” tale from a century ago or so in the US, but in modern India. As an American currently charged with “leading” a pair of teams of Indian developers, this was particularly eye opening to me to see just what still can happen over there. (And admittedly, there are quite a few parallels re: Eminent Domain in the US right this second.)

Between Rakhi’s struggles as an orphan essentially growing up on the streets before being abandoned in an orphanage to the slums she lives in to the (Indian) “White Knight” that “saves” her – yet expects slavish devotion because of it, Rakhi’s tale has quite a bit in and of itself. Then the back third really gets into a discussion-without-saying-the-words of urban redevelopment and the havoc it can wreak on those “least” able to handle havoc. And of course “least” has to be in quotes in the prior sentence because the tale through this section actually does a great job of showing just how resilient those people are – and how fragile those that think themselves resilient can be.

Overall a strong book that could have used a touch better editing – the flashbacks to Rakhi’s childhood and back to the current timeline were a bit jarring – but that certainly has more depth than is readily apparent to a casual reader. Very much recommended.

This review of Such Big Dreams by Reema Patel was originally written on May 8, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Disappeared by Bonnar Spring

This week we’re looking at an atmospheric and visceral mystery that turns into an edge-of-your-seat survival thriller. This week we’re looking at Disappeared by Bonnar Spring.

Atmospheric Mystery Turns Nail Biting Thriller. This is one of those visceral, atmospheric type tales where you truly feel immersed in the (for most readers) exotic locale. Spring does a tremendous job of showing the breadth of Morocco, from its urban and more modern (ish) areas to its much more remote and tribal areas, from its dazzling seascapes to the bleak Saharan Desert. Much of the tale is a mystery of a woman trying to find her sister, who she arrived in-country with but has now disappeared. Later revelations turn the tale into a desperate attempt to survive and to flee the country, and this is where the book begins to take on much more of its thriller vibe (though there was at least some tinge of foreshadowing of this during the more mystery-oriented section of the tale). Truly a remarkable work, and very much recommended.

#BookReview: Breathless by Amy McColloch

Atmospheric Tale Of Survival When There Is Little Atmosphere To Be Had. “What better place for a killer to hide than in the death zone” indeed. This is a book both for fans of survival thrillers and for nonfiction high altitude survival tales ala Krakaur’s Into Thin Air. McCulloch, inspired by her own real-world ascent of the very mountain she bases this tale on, crafts a story that shows the breadth of who goes up these mountains and why, and what they encounter when they get there. The physical dangers are ever present, the psychological challenges are daunting, and when it begins to leak that the resident legend may not be so legendary after all – and that there may be a killer on the mountain to boot – the tension ratchets up as high and tight as it can get. Excellent tale excellently told, and very much recommended.

This review of Breathless by Amy McColloch was originally written on May 1, 2022.

#BookReview: Last Dance On The Starlight Pier by Sara Bird

Powerful Examination Of Oft-Ignored Areas. Know up front that there is a LOT going on in this book, and to me it absolutely warrants the 400 page length. The book begins and ends in Galveston during the Depression, when one family had absolute control of the island. In between, we see a lot: the burlesque shows of the era – including their seedier sides engaging in open pedophilia, the dance marathons that were cheap entertainment for so many in this pre=television era and the marathoners that endured so much just to stay off the streets, the politics of the era (where your mileage is absolutely going to vary, but was true to the period at minimum), the treatment of homosexuality in the era, a new surgery meant to cure so many mental health issues – including homosexuality – that was just as barbaric as described late in the text here, and so much more. For those that care about precise historical fact in their historical fiction – I personally tend to give authors at least a touch of leeway, depending on particulars including overall story – know that this surgery was real, and the details provided about both it and the doctor that originated it – Dr Walter Freeman – are real. Bird simply moved up the timeline by about 15 years or so, and used it to great effect within the confines of her story. Truly a remarkable work, and very much recommended.

Note: For those seeking more details on the real horrors of the transorbital lobotomy described in this tale, My Lobotomy by Howard Dully – which I first encountered as a late night NPR broadcast – is truly tragically horrifying.

This review of Last Dance On The Starlight Pier by Sara Bird was originally written on April 23, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Moment In Time by Suzanne Redfearn

This week we’re looking at a sequel of sorts that takes its original’s much more imminent question of actual physical survival and turns it around to ask questions of survival after less life threatening, but similarly life shattering, trauma. This week we’re looking at Moment In Time by Suzanne Redfearn.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Interesting Sequel Of Sorts. This book takes as two of its primary characters some of the characters from her 2020 hit In An Instant – and pretty majorly spoils that book almost from the get-go. For those who don’t mind such spoilers (particularly such major ones), this one *can* be read first. But based on reading other GR reviews where the reader hadn’t read In An Instant first… I’d say go back and read that one first. There are also two other key characters introduced later in the story from Redfearn’s 2021 book Hadley and Grace, though their characters are developed enough here and without any truly overt ties (that I remember, hundreds of books later) to that one that it isn’t *as* essential to read it first to understand them. Overall I do think In An Instant hits harder, but I think this one shows a more “everyday” survival that far more people face than the truly life threatening scenario in In An Instant. Both books do great jobs of showing how even seemingly minor choices can have major impacts on how major events play out, and indeed this one seemed all too realistic. Furthermore, Redfearn does a tremendous job of showing the aftereffects of rape on both the victim and those around her – *without* showing the rape itself on screen (which, let’s face it, is difficult at best to read even for those who *haven’t* been through that trauma). Overall a solid and compelling book, and very much recommended.

#BookReview: Alaska Dreams by Jennifer Snow

When Dreams Turn To Nightmares, Create Your Own Reality. This was another solid entry into the Wild River series, one that can be read as standalone if you don’t mind knowing that other couples from previous romance books wound up together. While the focus is on our primary couple here and their struggles both personally and as a couple, most of the rest of couples from previous books make appearances, with some of them playing key support roles. Overall an excellent depiction of this side of Snow’s writing, this one is great for the Hallmarkie type crowd that needs at least some elements of drama without going *too* deep, but which also likes several laughs along the way. Another fun book that manages to showcase Alaska – but also Seattle and Los Angeles. Very much recommended.

This review of Alaska Dreams by Jennifer Snow was originally written on January 27, 2022.