Vacation Reading 2018

My wife and I recently returned from a hiking trip to Patagonia and the Andes.  I’ll try to do a vacation post later (although I still haven’t posted about last year’s vacation…), but today’s post is about the books I read on the flights there and back.

This year, I decided to read books written by fellow bloggers who I’m friends with online.  Fortunately, they all ended up being entertaining — I believe I rated them all four stars out of five at goodreads.

I’ll give a brief description of each book, but I’m also going to strain my brain and try to come up with something that might have pushed each one into five star territory for me.  I think that’s the kind of feedback I’d like from my friends if I were publishing my own stories.

Here are the books, in the order I read them:


Panama by CS Boyack is set during the construction of the Panama Canal.  A paranormal threat is wiping out the construction workers (you didn’t believe that cover story about mosquito-borne diseases, did you?), so President Roosevelt recruits a former Rough Rider, who has the ability to communicate with ghosts, to solve the problem.  Roosevelt has files on a number of other people with paranormal abilities, and the rough rider chooses a buffalo soldier with precognitive abilities as his partner.

For me, amping up the horror might have pushed this novel to five stars.  I’m not typically a horror reader, but I think I would have enjoyed more glowing red eyes in the dark of the jungle, more people being snatched right under the noses of the investigators, etc..

If you like this mixture of historical setting and paranormal/fantasy elements, you may want to follow the author.  He is currently working on a pirate-themed book, and in the future may write a book set in colonial Africa.

[Update:  I forgot to mention that I read the novel Panama while flying across the Isthmus of Panama.]

I believe the rest of the authors in this post are part of a “pulp revolution” movement, which I should probably make a lengthy post about, but instead I’ll try to throw out a few ideas here.  For me, the most defining characteristic is a focus on plot, action, and fun rather than fancy writing or political agendas.  I’ve spotted a few other tendencies, such as stories that cross genre boundaries, and depictions of longer-term male-female relationships rather than one-night encounters.  Many of the authors are also fans of pre 1950s/1960s works, enjoying Tarzan, Conan, and lesser-known characters from the same time period.

Notice that all three of the novels below use anime or comic-book style art for their covers.  I don’t know if they have friends in that visual-art community, if they are consciously trying to set themselves apart from the speculative fiction of the traditional publishers, or if these types of covers are just less expensive.  I need to ask around and find out.

sword and flower

Sword and Flower by Rawle Nyanzi is the story of a young J-pop star, who uses her ki powers to throw energy around instead of using laser lighting during her concerts.  She is assassinated, and wakes up in “Lesser Heaven”, where people go when they die violently.  Instead of ending up in the Japanese part of Lesser Heaven, she finds herself in a community of 17th-century American Pilgrims who are besieged by demons.  OK, this all sounds crazy here, but somehow it doesn’t feel out of place as you’re reading it.

The Pilgrims have incredible levels of ki energy, but won’t use it because they consider it witchcraft.  There are conflicts among the Pilgrims about whether to kill the girl, convert her into a Pilgrim woman, or unleash her against the demons.

I hate to say this, as I think most modern SFF is too slow-paced and full of unnecessary fluff, but I think this book could have used a bit of expansion with more showing vs telling.  For example, the reader is told that the Pilgrim food is awful and the Pilgrims insult the girl, but that could be replaced with a scene where she pushes green mush around her bowl with a spoon, while the magistrate’s wife makes some specific insults.

grey cat blues

Grey Cat Blues by JD Cowan is set on another planet, whose residents are isolated from the rest of the universe and walled off in their cities.  Most of the major characters are former gang members, and they need their hand-to-hand combat skills, because a paranormal threat is loose in the city.

I enjoyed the characters, setting, and plot of this book, and can’t remember why I gave it four stars instead of five.  If I can’t think of something soon, I may need to revise my rating upwards.

Normally I hate denouements, but I might have liked one here.  Was the decay of the city caused by the paranormal entity, and things will improve once it is defeated?  Or, was the decay what drew the entity to the city in the first place?  Will the surviving characters attempt to escape to another city?  Maybe what I really need is a sequel.

sudden rescue

Sudden Rescue by Jon Mollison is the story of a space trucker who stumbles into some dangerous situations.  I don’t feel like I can really say much about this book’s plot or characters without getting into spoiler territory.  I’ll just mention that it ends up having a scarier enemy than I was expecting, and that there’s a nice plot twist right at the very end.  There is a sequel available if you enjoy this novel.

I only have a couple of minor negatives.  I wasn’t a fan of the one-sentence teasers at the end of each chapter, as they had a slight spoiler effect.  There was also some male-female interaction (verbal) that didn’t interest me very much, and I could see some of it offending today’s readers, who seem to have trouble separating characters from authors.

kiss of the maiden

Kiss of the Maiden, a short story by JD Brink, is about a fisherman on another planet.  The fishermen are aware of space travel and other advanced tech, but use steamships and oars and such, although the story doesn’t specify if this is for cultural/religious or economic reasons.

These fishermen have to deal with various shark-like predators, from lone individuals who would be among the biggest sharks currently on Earth, to ship-eating monsters who are followed by packs of smaller sharks.

I didn’t feel that the story had a big punch at the end, but this is because it was originally intended as the opening chapter of a novel.  The author does something interesting with a note to readers, asking them to email him and tell him whether he should continue writing this character’s story, or expand one of his other works instead.  I need to go over his stuff on my kindle and see what I think.  I know my favorite character of the author’s was killed at the end of a story, so I may need some time to browse.

Leave me a comment if you have any thoughts on these stories, their covers, or various pulp movements.



  1. Friends shouldn’t let friends read other friends’ books…

    Honestly, if you hadn’t said you gave some of these 4stars, from your description I would have expected 2-3stars. Makes me wonder (hypothetically speaking of course) if you graded on the curve because of the personal connection.

    As for the covers. If I see a book with an anime style cover, I expect a manga. If I opened it up and found walls of text, I’d put it right back down again.

    1. As you can tell, I am a flowing font of positivism and happy thoughts this morning 😉

      1. Just honing your skills for that career change to motivation speaker!

        1. Exactly. Once my body breaks down from land surveying I can huddle in a wheelchair and tell people how they should live their lives.
          And get rich doing it. That’s the important part!

    2. I definitely wouldn’t have given any of these two stars. It’s possible one of them might have hit three, because I tend to bounce between a couple different definitions of the 3-4 boundary. Of course, as I mentioned, I’m even considering bumping one to 5 stars. Always scary to start a friend’s book, but I’ve had pretty good luck so far. By request, I once looked at the work of a blog follower who I hadn’t previously interacted with, and my writeup really ticked him off.

      I really should research those covers and do a post about them sometime.

    3. I should also mention that some of these books have occasional grammar errors, which might bug some readers. I’ve spent enough time reading (for work) documents written by non-native English speakers that I tend to shrug that off.

      1. See, you’re already letting your friends have any easy ride. I’m calling “shenanigans”, which basically invalidates all of the reviews until you prove to us all (ie, me) that you really hate these books and nitpick them to death.

        Works in politics, right? 😉

    4. rawlenyanzi · · Reply

      If I see a book with an anime style cover, I expect a manga.

      A fair complaint, and one I’ve received many times before about the cover. I should’ve put something like “A NOVEL” in small text right below the title.

  2. J. D. Brink · · Reply

    Hey! Pleasantly surprised to see “Kiss of the Maiden” on here. You’re right, it was supposed to be a first chapter and was a book proposal with a lot more to it about 7 years ago. (Holy poop, has it been that long?!) I really wanted to get it out into the world after so long, but as it is, I couldn’t dare charge for it. Thus it’s a quick freebie. (Plus, I found that cool shark image on a stock art site and had to use it for something!)
    And if I know what dead character you’re referring to, there might actually be more adventures for him in the future too! I hope to get back to that story line in 2019. I have a few more books in mind for that universe too.
    I also want to say that the Panama book sounds really cool! I love stuff that blends real history with hopefully-not-real elements.

    1. I was thinking of the younger guy in Thorne Legacy. That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to push Scythe of Kronos up on my kindle.

  3. Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed it.

    1. I’m really surprised the book hasn’t gotten more attention.

  4. What a surprise seeing Panama show up here. Not exactly science fiction, but I’m glad it’s held up over the years. Now tell us about that cool vacation.

    1. Makes me look forward to Lanternfish. I’m hoping you’ll decide to break it into a series, but my tastes may be far away from those of the average fantasy reader.

      1. I’m whittling it down a bit, but it’s still going to be near 100K. Appreciate your interest.

  5. Reblogged this on Entertaining Stories and commented:

    Kind of nice to know that Panama has held up over the years. Check out what the Planetary Defense Commander thought of it over at his site. It’s a good story to pick up for your October reading list.

  6. J. D. Brink · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Brink's Chaos Theory and commented:

    Planetary Defense Command reads at a rate I only wish I could. And his opinions are probably pretty damn close to yours and mine!

  7. J. D. Brink · · Reply

    I also think I’ve seen most of these covers shown in Cirsova, which is cool!

    1. I’m glad they’re getting some more exposure. I’m way behind on my Cirsovas, I need to catch up with that as well.

  8. Ive never heard of any of these… I live under a rock😖

    1. Ha, you don’t need to live under a rock to miss these, as they are all self-published. Boyack has a circle of bloggers/friends here at wordpress, many of whom write in other genres, and the others are in the pulp revolution crowd, trying to bring action and adventure back to speculative fiction.

  9. rawlenyanzi · · Reply

    Thank you for giving my book a chance and being honest with your review. Even people I’m buddies with tended to find something to criticize about the book; one of them absolutely savaged it.

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