Sunday, December 7, 2014

Orison - Review

by Daniel Swensen
© 2014
published by


Overview: Story lives as a thief in the rough-and-tumble city of Calushain, and she plans to escape to better life. But when her stash of money is stolen by her brother, she finds herself faced with a death sentence from her crime-lord boss.

Desperate to pay off her debt, she searches for a score big enough to earn her freedom. Instead, she finds the orison, a magical artifact with the power of dragon’s blood, that could tip the balance of power between the city and the Empire seeking to conquer it.

Is Story the person for the job? Or will the Orison kill her?

This fast-paced book by Daniel Swensen gained my attention with the opening pages. He presented a strong character named Story, and proceeded to involve me in her story. When the point of view switched to another character, I was, at first, disappointed, but soon became engrossed with former-mage, Wrynn, and then with warborn Ashen One-Howl—all with definitive personalities that enhanced the overall story.

I've started, and left unfinished, fantasy novels that are overly caught up in the sword and sorcery. Those elements are endemic to the genre, but often the proclivity to have one gory fight after another, with bodies piling up, seems to be the main objective. Swensen didn't do this. In Orison the characters are what move the story; many of the altercations and confrontations are mental, with human characters interacting with the magical entities and semblances that oversee and manipulate the politics and the populations. Personal concerns are presented for each character—real problems that make the characters more believable.

The various physical battles are vivid and the action well-described. The magic is very nicely written, with phrasing that enlivens the scene and emotions involved.

The language and the very good writing of Orison had me enjoying this novel on the "academic" level as well as for the entertainment. This is Swensen's first novel, and I will add it to my shelf of well-written and memorable books. I'll watch for more from this author.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Perseverance Saved Monopod and Money

© 2014 Kae Cheatham

Photography has been a large part of my life for several decades. I usually shoot action events, domestic animals; and to steady my aim, I most often use a monopod. Now I have this new big lens, and when I was using it on the monopod the other day, the lower extension kept slowly retracting.
weighs about 4 lbs

I noticed that a plastic cap was missing from the tightening cog. Bummer. Do I need a new monopod?

I bought both my tripod and monopod in the last century, so an upgrade could be considered. Still, I have other photo priorities right now, such as a speed light for my digital cameras (I’ve been using last-century units teched for film cameras, and have to do a lot of manual adjustment to get the correct exposures).

After eyeing several monopods (with $100 + price tags) at online stores, I decided to see if I could get the cap replaced, and carried the monopod in to my local hardware store. I didn’t have much hope for success, especially after one salesperson said, "What the heck is this thing?" But I persevered.

The next store associate took one look and said, "I think the nut needs to be tightened." (Could it really be that easy?) After a brisk walk down the nuts-and-bolts aisle, he selected a small tool, tightened the nut...And no more creeping retraction!

I bought the little socket (under $2.00) and at home, using my own ratchet, made further adjustments to allow for the heavier lens. Good as new! I added the socket to my camera bag, in case I need field adjustments.

I’m so glad I considered other options and didn’t just impulse buy a replacement.

Visit Kae C's Images on Facebook and Fine Art America. 
Tweets @KaeCsimages

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Field Guide to Happiness - Review

Linda Leaming, who has made her home in Bhutan for more than twenty years, has written another fine book about her life in this isolated small county wedged near Indian and Tibet. Where in the first book Married to Bhutan she described her new life and how she became connected to the people and culture (including marrying Phurba Namgay), this book A Field Guide to Happiness presents more of her views about how and why the Bhutanese maintain Happiness.

Happiness is the mantra of the country, almost a directive from the government itself; but Linda shows that happiness is ingrained in the culture and individuals. The book is charmingly written, in that Linda presents her own foibles and Western-culture attitudes as examples of how to (and not to) live happily.

In a straightforward, to lecturing way, I gained more insight into kindness, meditation and self-awareness. I also picked up a few recipes :-).
I wish there had been some pictures of this place. Linda's descriptions are splendid, because she is a very creative and eloquent writer. I like the cover art, by Phurba Namgay, and I often visit Linda's web page where she often shares pictures of Bhutan and of Namgay's work.

Linda's first book, Married to Bhutan is a well-received and popular memoir; it has been published in several different languages and I have no doubt the same will happen with A Field Guide to Happiness.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Other Tree - Review

The Other Tree
© 2013 D.K. Mok
ISBN13: 9781939392725
Spence City

The publisher sent me the download of this book through NetGalley.
D.K. Mok's The Other Tree is a quest novel that follows the predictable format of someone out to find something that seems to be impossible to find. The main protagonist Chris Arlin , is a cryptobotanist, which gives her an academic interest in finding "the other tree." What is this other tree? Well, most folks are familiar with the tree in the Garden of Eden that produce the apple that sent man into exile from paradise. But there is another tree; the tree of life that has fruit that can give immortality. This tree is thought to still be in Eden--if Eden can be found.

Chris has another interest in finding this other tree. It seems her father is dying of cancer, and she hopes that by finding this tree something can be produced that would help keep him and others like him alive. The mega-million dollar company SinaCorp is also looking for the tree. In fact, Chris's mother had been on the SinaCorp team Eden One, and had died during the quest. Chris blames SinaCorp for her death, and dislikes the materialistic posture SinaCorp presents. Although Chris is approached to join SinaCorp's Eden Two, she refuses.

So now we have the race between the evil SinaCorp, and the altruistic Chris. Chris solicits the help of Luke, a disgruntled priest (whose was named not for the biblical Luke, but for Luke Skywalker). In the manner of most quest stories, Chris and Luke travel to different continents, suffer through a variety of adverse environments, and must get out of perilous situations by ingenious methods. Chris's cryptobotanist background often helps them avoid calamity.

The many characters in The Other Tree include the highly-skilled and deadly SinaCorp people; their single-minded, heartless leader, Marrick; a group of militants who want to stop anyone from finding Eden; and a plethora of subsidiaries who keep the story moving. Most of them are very well drawn, with crisp dialogue. The action is nonstop.

There are a few tongue-in-cheek occurrences, such as Chris being asked for car keys at the end of the book, which she miraculously still has after being chased, nearly burned alive, and tossed around in various horrible manners; but she has the keys. The few attempts at philosophic contemplation are a bit sophomoric, but The Other Tree is well written and moves along briskly. A decent addition to this genre.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bad Glass - Review

Bad Glass
© 2012 Richard E. Gropp
isbn13: 9780345533937
Del Rey

I borrowed the eBook version from my Public Library's online Overdrive system.

I like this book. I didn't like the characters too much. But that isn't a criterion of mine in order to like a book. Bad Glass is well written, with dynamic characters that sustain throughout the story. The landscape is vivid and believable, even when events and circumstances are very unusual. I like speculative fiction that makes me think and wonder, and keeps me curious about what is going to happen. Gropp's Bad Glass certainly did this.

Dean Walker, the first-person narrator, is a young man who professes to be looking for a way to make his mark in the world. He is a photographer and he goes to Spokane with the hopes of getting exceptional photos that will stamp his name on the profession of photojournalism. Spokane has been off the maps for several months before the Dean gets there. Strange occurrences are going on in the city, and no one has been able to explain what or why. The military are there; they have cordoned off the entire area, not allowing anyone in or out. Dean must sneak into the city, and once there he observes very odd occurrences that he cannot explain. The city is in chaos--a sublime chaos, actually. Dean is robbed of his supplies but rescued by the lovely Taylor. Dean is intrigued with her and readily accepts her invitation to stay at a large house with her and several other people. Bolstered with booze, pot and eventually prescription drugs, Dean attempts to become closer with Taylor while he continues to take photographs he can smuggle out to Internet forums.

Spokane seems to be in an alternate reality. All of the subordinate characters are richly drawn and believable. I was curious about each of them, and wanted to know how they would fare under the odd circumstances. Dean's view of what is happening is not reliable because of the drugs he's been taking; even he admits this at several points. Nonetheless he has photographs which seem to substantiate the curious state of affairs in Spokane. The ending was intriguing, and even after reading the cryptic last chapter, I still had doubts about what had happened.

But this is what made me like the book. I'm still thinking about it, several days after finishing. And I know in a few months when I go back and see the title, I will remember the book quite vividly.

This title was a Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in a First Novel (2012)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

eBook Subscription Services

Several articles are telling about the eBook subscription services with DBW suggesting it's the wave of the future:  "6. More publishers will endorse the subscription eBook model by doing business with Oyster, Scribd and other similar services."

A few questions arise with these subscription venues, most importantly, are they legal. Michael Capobianco addresses this in his Writer Beware blog post.

The WWW has so many places eBooks can be purchased or downloaded for free, it's becoming a real bugaboo for authors to know where their titles are listed. I'm certain these subscription services will add to the confusion.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Cait Morgan Mystery - Review

The Corpse with the Silver Tongue: A Cait Morgan Mystery
by Cathy Ace (her first novel) 978-192719098
Torchwood Editions.

I borrowed this Kindle eBook through my Public Library’s online Overdrive system.

Food is a large part of Cathy Ace's premier mystery novel. Protagonist Cait Morgan, is in the south of France for a criminology conference and meets a former employer at a restaurant; he invites her to a dinner party. Cait, a bit overweight and a real foodie, goes to the party and witnesses her old boss fall dead at the table. After that, many of the pertinent scenes take place over meals. Over various meals, Cait garners information from the dinner party attendees who are suspect (as is Cait) in the death. She has lunch and breakfast, and lunch with the dashing Beni, a museum director in charge of antiquities, and he gives interesting information about an ancient Celtic gold collar (legend says it's cursed), that went missing on the very evening of the murder. Cait, from Welsh background, finds the history interesting and wonders if the murder might not have something to do with the missing collar.

Beyond this, the mystery is fairly straight-forward. Like a good Poirot story, I suspected each character of being the perp—especially when another unnatural death occurs. Each suspect has an unique personality that was well defined, from the ditzy widow, to the octogenarian gardener.

The gastronomical settings are well done and fitting to Cait's first-person character profile. But Cait has another important quality as well—an eidetic memory. (A convenient gimmick? Dunno, but the idea is popular, with a TV show about a detective with this talent now going into its third season.) This recall ability and Cait's criminology background get her off the hook with local Nice officials. It also has her as an occasional consultant with the police in her hometown of Vancouver, BC.

I appreciate that this story is nicely garnished with many turns of events. Communication with her colleague in Vancouver is dotted throughout the story. I didn't anticipate the significance. The ending to the mystery is filled with tension.

The ending to the story of Cait's trip to Nice was also satisfactory—nothing canned or expected.

I look forward to reading more of Cathy Ace's Cait Morgan mysteries.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Explorer - Review

The Explorer
by James Smythe © 2013
ISBN 9780062229519

I borrowed this Kindle ebook from my Public Library online Overdrive system.

Three parts. First person. Speculative fiction.
The official book blurb:
When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity's great explorers.
But in space, nothing goes according to plan.
The crew wake from hypersleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. They mourn, and Cormac sends a beautifully written eulogy back to Earth. The word from ground control is unequivocal: no matter what happens, the mission must continue.
But as the body count begins to rise, Cormac finds himself alone and spiraling toward his own inevitable death...unless he can do something to stop it.
I was drawn to James Smythe's The Explorer, by the intriguing cover design. I found the writing good and the emotions of protagonist of Cormac Easton believable. I didn't like or dislike him--was merely curious to see where the events led. The psychological elements of crew interaction are interesting, but hinge greatly on information that is given in dibs and dabs throughout the book; perspective of them keeps changing. Some of the science elements seems sketchy, but since the story is from Cormac's POV (and he's a science Luddite) maybe that doesn't matter.

I felt the story strung out a bit too long, especially the flashbacks to Cormac's life and dissolving marriage to Elena. Cormac-on-the-ground is boring. I found myself skimming much of Part 2 and 3 because it seemed repetitive with just slightly different slants from before. I realize this repetition is some of the essence of the story and meant to build tension; I wasn't tense. Toward the end, I studied what I read more closely to understand the denouement of the story. This prompted me to return to earlier parts of the book, because a few things didn't jibe. Even on re-reading, certain major factors didn't work.

I don't want to tell too much because I hate giving spoilers. Best I can do is to say The Explorer is something each reader has to experience without forewarning. The review responses on Goodreads run the gamut from 5-star to 1-star. Whatever, it's a good mental exercise to see if you can figure out what's happening.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Winter Shoot Camera Care

When scheduling a winter shoot, make plans in three segments.
  • Before: precautions before leaving the house;
  • During: precautions when out shooting;
  • After: the best way to end the shoot.


-- If you have several lens choices, decide which to use (preferably only one; swapping lenses in the cold increases risk), put it on the camera and use a lens cap to guard against fogging.
-- Pack a camera bag that will hold your camera and a few extra things, such as some plastic or canvas bags; a soft, lint free cloth; food, water and extra gloves for you.
A water-repellant, dark bag is best; it will absorb heat even from the winter sun and items in it might stay warmer longer (depends on the temps, of course).
-- Take a padded ground cloth, so if you have to set the bag down, the cold won't seep through the bottom.
-- Place your extra batteries in an interior coat pocket where they will benefit from your body warmth. In subzero temps, put a hand-warmer packet in that pocket, too.

-- Allow the camera to adjust to the temp change from warm car to cold day; keep it in the bag for as long as possible when you leave the car; this will reduce the chance of the lens and viewfinder fogging.
-- If you can, carry your camera under your jacket between shots. If it's on a tripod, cover it--a sweatshirt works well.
-- Maintain battery power by swapping the batteries on occasion. Even a cold battery will regain some strength after it is warmed. Autofocus uses power, so if possible, go manual. Previewing your shots also uses power, so use this feature sparingly.
-- Moisture can accumulate on your lens from light or wind-whisked snow. Use an absorbent cloth to keep the camera dry. If conditions start getting messy, a small umbrella (that you have stashed in your bag, of course) or a pop-out reflector can shield the camera.
-- When a gale kicks up, get everything under wraps; any moisture can really mess up the circuits that control the camera's functions.
A plastic bag is good to pull around the camera, although I prefer one of the reusable bags from recycle places. They are sturdy and easier to maneuver in a wind; you can even put it inside the plastic bag. I've treated the outside of mine with the same waterproofing I use on my boots.

Although thoughts of warmth and shelter might beckon you, first make provisions for the camera.
-- Condensation can be produced in any change from outside to inside—even into the car. Let the camera warm slowly to prevent condensation. It's best to wipe the camera down and put it in a resealable container or the camera bag before you get out of the cold. The bag will collect the moisture and not the camera.
-- Once at home, unpack everything and dry it thoroughly. If not treated properly, moisture on a lens, especially where it connects to the camera, can eventually cause mold between the glasses. (If you were caught in bad weather I suggest dismantling and wiping all removable parts as soon as you get to your vehicle.)
-- Open all the hatches and flaps on the camera to let moisture escape. Take out the memory card and battery.


Pouches of rice or silicon packets placed in the camera bag will also remove moisture. Any missed condensation could freeze and cause damage when the camera is again exposed to the cold.

-- Don't forget to charge the batteries so they're ready for the next venture.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Badluck Way - Review

Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West
Bryce Andrews © 2013
ISBN 9781476760261
Atria Books/Simon & Schuster

I received a copy of this title through NetGalley, with permission from the publisher.

Badluck Way is the setting down of a year in Bryce Andrews' life. I consider this creative nonfiction, and the publisher states in the front matter that "certain and names and identifying characters have been changed and search and events have been reordered and combined.” This protects both the region and people succinctly presented in this book and also allows Andrews to put events together in a concise reveal of what he perceived.

Set in the Madison River Valley of Southwestern Montana Badluck Way contains images and a map of the area. None of these are as interesting as the rich language used in Andrews' narrative. The sense of place is powerfully conveyed and I visualized the mountains, creeks, Sun Ranch, and the indomitable terrain in which Andrews lived and worked. For readers not from this region of the United States, I feel certain they will be awed by the vast ruggedness just as I (a Montanan) was. The book gives rich description of  unrelenting ranch work and the satisfaction of jobs well done.

In first reading, the beginning of Badluck Way seemed disjointed and rambling. As I moved through the book, I realized that the recounting of Andrews' youth and his travels to Montana and other places, define his character. Knowing about him before he arrived at Sun Ranch illuminates his personal changes and growth.

In several segments of the book Andrews describes the wolves and has done a nice job in eliminating the human elements and presenting a Wolf story. This juxtaposition of Wolf life with Ranch life builds with tension throughout the book. When the clashes of species occur, Andrews presents each conflict with his own inner turmoil about what is happening. He also leaves room for interpretation so the "get rid of the wolves" camps (of which there are many in this state) cannot dismiss his words out of hand; nor can the "preserve nature at all cost" factions. His reporting is thoughtful and articulate.

I enjoyed Badluck Way and from it I will retain images and emotions for a long while.