Author Archive: Jay

Dawn of Wonder

Dawn of Wonder (The Awakening Book 1) is a coming of age fantasy, with some military and mystery/suspense elements, by Jonathan Renshaw. The author has a web site here, as well. Right up front: There are religious elements to the book. I saw a review that was disappointed by that, calling it a deus ex machina. I don’t see it that way. It was not like that element had not been built toward during the book. Further, one might consider religion itself to be fantasy, and it certainly is a valid fantasy element. At worst it was slightly heavy-handed in one aspect, but you should judge for yourself.

That said, this is one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read. That and its length make it an incredible bargain at $3.99 on Kindle. If you enjoyed works like The Wheel of Time series, this is for you. If you enjoyed Harry Potter, this is for you. It feels Potteresque in spots, but is not crazily so. Most notably, there is a character that makes me think of a cross between Hagrid and Dumbledore. I expect my Potter-obsessed eleven year old will love this when she gets around to reading it. Right now she’s interested in The Martian (which was excellent, I thought, but suffered from excess buildup or hype about how amazing it was prior to my reading it when the price dropped to a still-excessive $6.99).

It starts in the typical middle of nowhere, Shire-like or Two Rivers-like locale, shortly thrown into upheaval by events. No good deed goes unpunished, so it’s road trip time for the main character. Adventures ensue, much is learned, and I can’t wait for the sequel. Also, I am not a horse person, but there is a horse I can’t wait to see again. The author has a wonderful way of describing things, particularly when it comes to the antics or young men. I also enjoyed the political intrigue and glimpse of foreign relations.

Just buy it. Enjoy!

One Thousand Years

One Thousand Years by Randolph Beck is the book I have been reading exclusively on my phone for a few months. Let me explain. Before I got an actual Kindle, when there was a sale I couldn’t refuse, I used the Kindle app on my phone. This worked well, despite the screen size. The Kindle seemed so large as to be unwieldy at first, though it took all of a day to adapt. Once I had the Kindle, I continued to use the reader on the phone while in waiting room situations. Beats stale magazines and drug company propaganda, or just staring around the place. Selecting one book that was exclusive to the phone made it especially compelling. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

I bought it at 99¢, but it’s a bargain at the current price of $2.99. At least, it is if you like science fiction that has military and historical elements. It’s the story of a Tuskegee airman, rescued from a crash off Italy by future Nazis. You learn their history as he learns it. It’s not the history you know or as he expects it to unfold. But why?

In the end, it got almost too compelling to read only while waiting. I took advantage last night of my Kindle having an inexplicably dead battery. I was almost done with the latest Spinward Fringe, naturally extra gripping in the last several percent. When that was done, I finished this one, also in its last several percent. Unfortunately, between the adrenaline of the charging problem and reading the climax of two excellent books, I had trouble getting to sleep. Not good, when the alarm goes off before 2 AM. I started a book that explores an EMP scenario as faced by fictional preppers, but that was too interesting, so I switched to a fantasy book where the setup would render me sleepy faster. That and I switched back to the Kindle, which had enough charge by then. Which was good, since the phone was down to 5% and needed to go on the charger as it normally does while I sleep. But I digress.

I am looking forward to more in the world of One Thousand Years. I went looking today, thinking there might be a sequel. I haven’t read it yet, but there is a 99¢ , 55 page story that follows up the main one to some degree. I bought it, and will probably make The Time Bridge At Orion my next “read on the phone” book. Assuming I don’t get impatient, because the end of One Thousand Years left a terribly intriguing mystery. If that doesn’t resolve things, I hope there’s more soon!

Great Series

While you’re waiting for me to get around to reviewing them properly, ideally even book by book, I thought I’d throw out a list of some series that fall in the range of enjoyed to can’t get enough of them. In keeping with the general focus of this place, these are all low cost eBooks. Thus I won’t bother listing something like The Wheel of Time. Oh wait, I sort of just did.

Spinward Fringe by Randolph Lalonde is a fantastic, distant future SF saga that not only makes you think Firefly writ large, but contains unabashed references or homages to same, and to other bits of culture you may recognize. The first, prequel-like volume, linked, is free to get you started.

Timeline 10/27/62 by James Philip it a Brit-centric alternate history in which the point of departure is the Cuban Missile Crisis turning hot. This is the first series in which I have ever preordered the next book before it was released. I feel like I have shared the lives of Peter, Marijah and others, and cannot wait to see more. The abbreviated first volume, linked, will get you hooked for a mere 99¢. All are bargains. A secondary, USA-centric concurrent series is due to start releasing, appropriately, on October 27, even as the original continues.

Portals of Infinity by John Van Stry is a catchy fantasy series that I thought might be cheesy at first, but in fact is clever, distinctive, and hard to put down. The first is not introductory priced the way some first books in a series are, but it’s well worth $2.99.

Ark Royal by Christopher Nuttall is another Brit-centric SF series, which has become six books since I read and loved the first three, which frankly I thought tied things up neatly, but I guess I’ll see when I get around to the rest. Humanity’s first encounter with non-humans becomes interesting. The author is prolific and these are not his only books I have read and enjoyed, but the others so far have been standalones.

The Beast of Maug Maurai by Roberto Calas is one solid story in three parts, not quite like other fantasy that I’ve read, with seemingly hopeless odds, some deeper mysteries, and food for thought about duty. Seemingly contrary to how great the set was, the entire first volume in some ways read like a fleshed out version of gathering your band of characters for a D&D quest. Yet it felt real and memorable. I would love to revisit this world, the consequences and future developments. Then again, sometimes it’s fun to feed these things to our imaginations. I couldn’t put these down. I tend to read myself to sleep. Didn’t work with these. Lucky for me I found them after the series was complete

There are others I could probably name, but this covers most of the highlights of a couple years of reading primarily low cost Kindle books and making discoveries such as these.

The Threads of Jericho

Again, not quite my usual fare, though it does fall under fantasy. It’s different, though, reminding me of comics. The Threads of Jericho by Michael A. Scheller , illustrated by Petterson Oliviera, is a mere $1.00, but is less of a bargain than it would be at longer than 104 pages.

When I say it reminds me of comics, let me add some background. I once collected comics, centering largely around titles like Swamp Thing and others in the DC/Vertigo universe. I bought almost the entire run of Swamp Thing, the entire run of Sandman, most of the run of Hellblazer, and the entire run of Preacher. Those last three I bought from the first issue.

The Threads of Jericho is a fantasy centering on characters like Death, his son, and other family in the realm of gods or mythological/supernatural beings. Solcom Jericho, son of Death, does not want to be what he is expected, wishing to do some good in the world. This does not go smoothly or without an unexpected antagonist.

It kept me engaged and entertained, and was not predictable. I wouldn’t mind seeing more along similar lines. Worth reading, if not as big a bargain for your reading budget as a several hundred page novel for $3-4 would be.

Bad News

It is fitting and intentional that my first review post should be for the first novel by an author I have known online since she was twelve. She has always written well. The writing in the book is no exception, and to me sounded exactly like her, if you know what I mean.

The book is Bad News, by Maddy Pumilia. I paid $5.99 for the Kindle edition. This is more than my typical price range, but was reasonable for something I was eager to check out, and for something with a traditional publisher. It is also outside my usual genres.

Bad News is a suspenseful murder mystery with a playful side and, to my delight, a romantic angle. I am a sucker for the romance. The story was inspired by Maddy’s own journalism career background; the kind of “what if this happened…” that I have many times thought of in my own life, but zero times novelized.

Without giving away details beyond those blurbed on the book page, I found it all but impossible to put down. This is saying a lot, considering some of the amazing books I’ve read lately. Maddy cost me a bit of sleep. Whodunnit kept me guessing and speculating until the end. Recommended. Especially if romance and/or mystery are your thing.

Before We Begin

I wanted to say more about myself, and about what you can expect here. In doing this post, though, I can see I also need to do some things like add categories.

The plan is mainly to review books, at this point mostly Kindle books, and in keeping with the name, mostly ones bargain-priced, which also means mostly self-published ones.

I could read before I started school, from early enough that I don’t really remember not being able to read. My primary genres are science fiction and fantasy, AKA speculative fiction, though I have been known to read most anything. Which is how I happened to have read The Fallon Blood many years before Robert Jordan came out with The Wheel of Time series. He had written the former under a different pen name, and I could see that it was obviously the same guy, once I learned that. But I digress. Which happens a lot. Besides those genres, I am most likely to read history, biography, and sometimes economics or business. Add alt-history and survivalist/post-apocalyptic fiction if you consider those separate genres from SF. You may perceive, even without reading it in this post, that I lean libertarian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

My review writing experience is all but nil. I have written a couple of reviews on Amazon. I have blogged elsewhere over the course of time on what I have thought of this book or that. That’s about it. Here’s hoping I don’t sound lame. Please bear with me as I get into a groove.

My reading has been so extensive over the past year or so, I fear I will have to reread most of it to do it justice. Horrors! Having to reread some of the best writing I’ve ever enjoyed ? Oh no, save me! I am almost never sarcastic. Just ask my kids.

Finally, I am not an Amazon or other seller affiliate. Not that I object, I just happen not to be, and would let you know if I were, or if that changes. I checked on what was involved years ago and it struck me as too tedious for the benefit involved. Perhaps that has changed. Presumably I will try to link to books or items I discuss, so they are easy to find if you so desire. Additionally, I will make clear if something I review was given to me free as a review copy. I can’t imagine much of that happening, but full disclosure if it does. That’s inherent in the format here, anyway. Sometimes I download a Kindle book being offered free for a brief promotional period. For me, that makes it frugal. If you have to pay for it, perhaps it’s not going to be frugal at all. Details like that will be included.

What Is This Place?

Welcome to Frugal Reviews.

In the past couple years, I have found myself buying and reading almost exclusively Kindle format books that range from free to $4.99, typically about $2.99, because that is what I can afford. It’s also nice to encourage independent authors. I’ve read some amazing stuff I would never have found in a bookstore. This led to the idea of posting on a blog, talking about what I’d read.

The wife suggested I could include reviews of products that aren’t books, but that were obtained at low cost. That makes sense, so you may see some of that as well. For that matter, with fair warning, I am likely to post about books that were not in that pricing sweet spot. Or that are not normally, but were bought during a sale. We’ll see how it goes, and how it might morph.