Mystery

The Bellbottom Incident

Third and final volume in the Incident Series, The Bellbottom Incident by Neve Maslakovic ties things up nicely. Along the way, it gives us a higher proportion of adventure to buildup than the first two. That is, most of the book is a chase to the recent past. This was set up at the end of the second book when a time-orphaned teenager disappears to the past. The wrong past, as it turns out, since she only gets as far as 1976.

This is a great look at the rules of time travel as the author has imagined them, their implications in recent time versus far time, and at the role of human nature.

It is worth noting that these three books are more like one story in three volumes. You could read the first and walk away, but really, if you read more than that, you gotta read all three.

One of the locations in 1976 is the Fort Myers, Florida area. This tickled me, as I lived there for about six weeks at the beginning of 1986. If six weeks is long enough to describe as “lived there.” I took a semester off and stayed with a friend, his first wife and her daughter. Had he not decided they had had enough of Florida, the lack of decent jobs and people they could relate to, I would presumably have been there for at least a few months. I lived a stone’s throw from the Edison Mall and his summer home. I’ve been on the Sanibel Causeway, and even seen what it’s like in dense fog. I kind of liked the area, enough that I thought about trying to stay on my own when my friend moved back north. I just couldn’t see how I could swing it, and how I could do that and also complete college.

Personal history aside, I loved this book, and the set of them it completed. It was worth the $4.99, especially given that it was well edited. It’s not that it leaves absolutely nothing to your imagination, but it ends things satisfyingly, and without any obvious temptation for future books in the same fictional universe. Not that it couldn’t happen.

The Runestone Incident

The Runestone Incident is the second in the Incident Series by Neve Maslakovic. The series appears to be destined to be three and done, apart from a brief prequel that I have no plans to read.

This is a fairly direct sequel to the first, in that it helps to be aware what happened, and to know that you liked the concept and direction of these stories. In the background of all of them lurks a slow moving romance.

At the same time, the historical focus is completely different. Julia Olsen remains the delightful point of view character. The university in Minnesota, where she works, remains the central setting. The university’s time machine, used for a wide range of historical research, remains central to the plot and the inevitable hijinks.

This time it’s the Kensington Runestone, its authenticity and whether Scandanavians made it that far into the future United States during the fourteenth century. There are history lessons embedded in the fiction that I largely knew already. There is also authorial license with details we cannot know beyond a doubt happened one way or another. It is fiction, after all.

Once again, putting it down was a challenge. Since I reviewed the first book shortly after finishing it, and am doing the same with this one, you can see how closely this post follows that one. I blew through it avidly.

It is possible that you may find the build slow and have less patience for the preliminaries than I did. The serious action starts well into the book. Then again, if by serious action you think of it as climactic action, that makes sense. While these are science fiction, they are also a form of mystery. The build fits that.

Recommended, in case that wasn’t clear. I bought this Kindle edition on sale for $1.99. It is normally $4.99, the top of my preferred price range. I did pay full price for the third installment after finishing the first, and the second installment did nothing to make me regret that. I plan to read that next, despite a substantial queue of other options. Stay tuned.

The Far Time Incident

The Far Time Incident is the first in a three book Incident Series by Neve Maslakovic. I went into it skeptical, based on the description, but I do have a weakness for Vesuvius and Pompeii, and the price was discounted from the usual $3.99. How I liked it (and the first 16% of the second in the series, also bought at the $1.99 discount) can be extrapolated by my just having discovered that there is a third and final book in the series and bought it on the spot for the full $4.99. That’s the most I normally prefer to pay for Kindle books. I paid that despite knowing the length is relatively short, and despite having a pile of other books available to read.

Julia Olsen, assistant to the science dean at a fictional university, is a delightful, relatable point of view character. In an academic world, she is not one of the academics. While helping to manage the time travel roster, she has never gone for a look at the past herself.

When a professor disappears on an unscheduled trip back in time, destination unknown, Julia assists the campus police chief in investigating what might have happened, and whether there was foul play. This leads to Pompeii, pre-eruption. Hijinks ensue.

This was an excellent read, with unexpected twists. I’m surprised that the average stars from Amazon reviews falls below four, rather than being four and a fraction. I didn’t peruse the reviews to see what the detractors had to say. Still, for it to have almost four, most people like it, and the number of reviews is high enough that the average isn’t skewed as it can be on a newer release.

I did not notice any editing problems, so you won’t find yourself distracted by that while reading.

The Fire Seekers

The Fire Seekers (The Babel Trilogy Book 1) is a hard-to-classify book by Richard Farr. I know I say this too often, but I found it hard to put down. I actually finished the last 20% of it after waking and being unable to fall back to sleep in the wee hours this morning.

You could call it science fiction. You could say it’s young adult, but it’s not really, apart from overlap. That is, readers in the YA market might also enjoy it, and appreciate the relative youth of the main character and his friends. Most of us, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to relate to his extraordinary childhood, background, and, overt only as a plot factor at a couple of key points, wealth. More than a couple plot points, if you count some of what the ordinary-seeming protagonist knows as a result of his background. It’s definitely loaded with action, suspense, and a mystery that remains largely unsettled in the satisfying yet disturbing conclusion.

Sadly, the next book in the trilogy has not yet been published, or it would be the book I jumped into next. Which tells you just how gripping I found it. It reads a little like The Da Vinci Code, or Raiders of the Lost Ark if you imagine that as a book.

There is history, archaeology, language, mythology and religion, with accuracy beyond the call of frenetic fiction. The book really doesn’t pick on a specific religion so much as examining the history and basis of religions. Much of the plot revolves around a new religion, or perhaps anti-religion, having been founded and grown vast in record time. But why? To what end? Who are the bad guys?

Highly recommended. On Amazon, it doesn’t even have a full four stars average from reader feedback. I’m surprised. I’d expect enough five star ratings to make it four and a fraction. (No book or product is for everyone. It seems suspicious when something with more than its first few reviews has a solid five.) Oh well. I recommend it. If you like this sort of action story that falls somewhere into speculative fiction.

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 99ยข. 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.

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.