• Steel Walls and Dirt Drops
    Where the APES go to play

    Alan Black – author, writer and publisher

    Alan Black – author, writer and publisherAlan Black is a #1 bestselling author on Amazon and Kindle for Metal Boxes, a young adult, science fiction, military, action adventure. But don’t pigeon-hole him based on that. In his words, “My writing tastes are as eclectic as my reading preferences.”

    I first ran on to Alan on Facebook with titles like “Granite Heart”, “Friendship Stone” and “Heaviest Rock.” There seemed to be a theme and they looked interesting, taking place in the 1920 Ozark Mountains with a wonderful sounding character, LillieBeth Hazkit. Then there was “Chewing Rocks”, “Metal Boxes” and “Steel Walls and Dirt Drops.” Other than the titles— rocks, steel, stone, granite, dirt—they were as different as night and day. I first tried “Chewing Rocks” and thoroughly enjoyed it. Check out my blog about that here… Chewing Rocks! What a Great Title. It was in this fun read that Alan Black introduced me to Chastity Snowden Whyte, captain and sole occupant of the asteroid mining ship, Sedona, and I was hooked.

    So who is Alan Black? Like many of us in our later years, we claim more than one location. His is Kansas, Missouri and now, Arizona. Having recently moved from Arizona myself, I’m a bit disappointed at not getting the opportunity to meet Alan in person while I lived there. Black is a self-published multi-genre writer of eight novels. One of his writer friends called him ‘timeless’ because he wrote historical books, novels based in the present and tales of the future. His main goal is to write story driven novels with scifi elements that are more character and action driven than focused on science, story driven historicals that are not history lessons and entertainment based literary fiction.

    Alan Black’s vision statement is, “I want my readers amazed they missed sleep because they could not put down one of my books. I want my readers amazed I made them laugh on one page and cry on the next. I want to give my readers a pleasurable respite from the cares of the world for a few hours. I want to offer stories I would want to read.”

    He has certainly written stories that I want to read.

    Here is my take on “Steel Walls and Dirt Drops”

    Steel Walls and Dirt Drops by Alan BlackThird Level Commander Hamisha (Misha) Ann McPherson, a larger-than-life woman both physically and professionally, combat veteran and war hero to the nth degree, decorated to the highest level, is dropped onto Heaven’s Gate Space Station, AMSF Kiirkegaard, to take charge of an armored infantry fighting force, the 1392nd Allied Protective Expeditionary Services or better know as the APES. How hard can this be, she thinks, going from being one of many ground-pounders to leading a bunch of ground-pounders? Ground-pounders might not even be the right words for them. It’s more like planet-pounders or planetoid-pounders. In the world of APES they were called Dirt Droppers, because what they did was leave the safe confines of the space station’s steel walls and dirt drop onto planets and planetoids to battle the hated and dreaded non-human Binders. I could only envision each of the APE members strapped into a machine, a powerhouse of arsenal elements that could take down a Sherman Tank without batting an eyelash. Oh yes, and there are plenty of pretty eyelashes to go around. There is equal opportunity in the APES, packed with ass-kicking men and women, all of whom play as hard as they fight.

    When Misha arrives on the scene, however, she finds instead of a well-oiled fighting machine, a bunch of slackers, petty criminals and losers, whose previous commander had mentally retired long before he actually left his command. She also finds that Lieutenant Colonel William Park Britaine, Commander of AMSF Kiirkegaard, wants her head; for what reason she has no idea. She could not imagine how she was going to make this armored infantry fighting force ready to go to battle against the Binders, and she hasn’t much time before they are to be deployed. Under Colonel Britaine, the sooner she could get her teams off the Kiirkegaard, the better. So she digs in and pulls all her second level commanders together to begin the process of whipping all eleven squads into battle-ready shape.

    And that, she does, but not everything in life or in military goes as planned. The battle-ready APES do in fact go to battle, but with whom?

    “Steel Walls and Dirt Drops” was truly a fun read. I look forward to wading into more of Alan Black’s stories.

  • Chewing Rocks!
    What a Great Title for this Sci-Fi

    I first ran on to Alan Black on Facebook with titles like “Granite Heart”, “Friendship Stone” and “Heaviest Rock.” There seemed to be a theme and they looked interesting, taking place in the 1920 Ozark Mountains with a wonderful sounding character, LillieBeth Hazkit; still, I wasn’t compelled to give them a try.

    Then I spotted “Chewing Rocks“…

    …a story that although related in title, was totally out of this world in difference. I mean that literally… way out of this world. Alan Black introduced me to Chastity Snowden Whyte, captain and sole occupant of the asteroid mining ship, Sedona, and I was hooked.

    A strong female character you can’t help but love

    Chewing Rocks by Alan BlackIn her younger years Chastity Snowden Whyte had gotten into too much trouble trying to defend her name and so started going by Sno; not Chasitity; not Whyte. What a great… interesting… odd name… Sno! “Isn’t that a weather condition?” people would often ask when first introduced to her, many of whom had never seen snow, having been born somewhere off planet, planet Earth, that is. Having found her origins on a planetoid somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, even Sno had only heard stories of snow.

    In the opening chapter, Alan Black paints an out-of-this-world picture of Sno, busy outside the Sedona in her EVA suit, by herself, mining asteroids for rock (Chewing Rocks) and hopefully, a rare metal or two. When she returns to her home base in Arizona City on a small planetoid called, Ceres, she gets in a barroom scrap with 4 fellow miners from a competing operation. Men being men and expecting this pretty young woman to be easy pickings, find themselves up against a force that they can’t handle. Without harming so much as a fingernail, she puts them in their place and then shortly after, to avoid possible repercussions with authorities, blasts off into the asteroid belt. There are claims to be worked, asteroids to explored, rocks to be chewed. It’s what happens when the three men chase after her, retribution on their minds, that makes Chewing Rocks so much fun to read. Great action, wonderful word visuals of the planetoid city, the spaceships and the mining operations along with a multitude of colorful characters made Chewing Rocks hard to walk away from. When I got to the arbitration scenes with Therese Cleasemount, I just simply couldn’t put my iPad down; actually found myself chuckling now and then. I think maybe our justice system could learn a little bit from Miss Cleasemount.

    Chewing Rocks was simply a joy to read. I look forward to reading more by the “Paperback Writer” Alan Black.

  • Genome…
    Is there power in the Afterlife?

    Genome by Gary HensonI have to say that Gary Henson tells one hell of a story. On the surface ‘”Genome” was a plain and simple fun read with plenty of ghost action thrown in. I suspected early on who the killer was, however, I changed my mind several times as the plot progressed. Gary just kept me guessing, which is the way I like it. Deep down, however, ran the thread through which all of us, at some time in our lives no matter what our beliefs or lack thereof, stop to ponder. Sometimes it awakens us in the middle of the night or simply skims by during a related scene in a book or movie. Is there an afterlife, and if so, how does it work? Where do our souls go? Do souls, or are they really ghosts, linger for a time, finishing up business before moving on, setting wrongs to right, or passing on a final message or two?

    A unique premise in Genome, no doubt about it

    Gary’s premise in “Genome” that those who can communicate with the spirits are blessed with a special structure to their DNA, was unique, and then to suggest that a non-psychic individual’s DNA could be altered to give them the power, really enriched the plot. Thanks, Gary, for bringing “Genome” to us. I very much enjoyed it.

  • The Man With the Blue Hat left me with visions of King and Koontz

    The Man with the Blue Hat by Wendy Potocki

    I have to say after encountering Potocki’s scene with the shrunken head I had the need to run to the refrigerator to find something to kill the taste in my mouth. Wow! The Man with the Blue Hat was a full, wrap around sensory overload; taste, smell, feel, the whole gambit. She had a way to weave into my head a very ugly, nasty character, bringing back memories of early Stephen King and Dean Koontz. And then, throughout the entire story, from one horrific scene to another, I was never able to put a finger on who the bad or good guys were, and even now after putting the book down following the closing paragraph, I’m still not entirely sure. However, there was no doubt for whom I was cheering. Good or bad, I know who had to come out on top. Thanks, Wendy Potocki, for The Man with the Blue Hat, a great read.

  • Say You’ll Haunt Me… Is everyone a little bit crazy or insane?

    Say You'll Haunt Me by Penny ChildsPenny Childs’ novel Say You’ll Haunt Me opens with a bone chilling, death defying rescue by vacationing FBI agent Jason Mackenzie in an icy Michigan river. Samantha O’Connell was assumed to be committing suicide, but a gut feeling, or was it a voice in Jason’s head, tells him that the assumptions may not be true, that there is a whole lot more waiting to be discovered just below the surface. Ms Childs had me from the first paragraph when Samantha awoke perched in bare feet on the icy bridge railing. As she plunged into the water I plunged into the story, anxious to find out what was really happening in the woman’s mind, in her life, and what part Jason was going to play as he and the local sheriff try to peel away the layers of secrecy guarding the O’Connell family. Is everyone a little bit crazy or just flat out insane?

    Say You’ll Haunt Me gripped me from beginning to end; a fine job for this new indie author.

  • The Last Dance
    A Love Story of a Lifetime

    The Last Dance by Wyatt McIntyreThe Last Dance is a love story of a lifetime that will leave readers analyzing their own relationships, wondering if they have or will ever have what James and Alejandra found in a chance meet in a quiet little diner. From the days before the attack on Pearl Harbor when they first fall in love, to after the war’s end exactly four years later and on until nearly the next decade, we wonder how they will ever find each other again, and what will happen when they do. Page after page Wyatt McIntyre draws us in, teasing us with little, romantic tidbits.

    ….”I’ve spent my entire life moving in a slow waltz with you, Alejandra…”

    ….If this was their last moment together he wanted to spend it holding her in his arms.

    ….Alejandra quivered at his touch. Is this how it feels when dreams come true?

    McIntyre knows how to tell a love story.

    Although we know from the beginning that it will all turn out, McIntyre hooked me because I had to know how James and Alejandra met, and what it was that drove them away from each other and then what it took to bring them back together.

    I very much enjoyed The Last Dance and look forward to seeing more from this new author.

  • Beaneath African Skies: A True Story That Reads Like Fiction

    Gillie Bowen Gillie Bowen, born in Nakuru in Kenya and now living in Loire Valley, France, traveled the world extensively as a child. She is a retired British journalist and the best-selling author of amuse-bouche (rough translation… taste tantalizer), a collection of French recipes and photographs adapted for British and American markets. Amuse-bouche is available on Amazon.

    Molly on left, George on right, ages 3 and 5What I am writing about today, though, is not French “taste tantalizers.” It is about Gillie’s second book, the story of George and Molly Hudson, brother and sister. As young children they witness the horror of a tribal castration in an African jungle. They lose their home and their family in a devastating fire. They suffer the anguish and heartbreak of their father’s betrayal. With nothing left of their childhood, they board a ship to start a new life in another country, where lion, hippo, rhino and leopard rule. At the age of just ten and eleven, they are alone, but they have each other Beneath African Skies. The author’s recounting is based on the true story as told to her by the two siblings. It is a story that takes place in 20th century Africa: hyena, crocodile and cobra attacks, gold rush mania, crater plunges, near-fatal accidents, typhoid fever and murder are just some of the ordeals they must face. It is the story of coping with death and the horrors of the Second World War: George as an RAF fighter pilot, Molly as a pregnant and lonely bride in war-torn Britain. Above all, it is the story of their survival and their love for each other.

     The Chapman sailing to Simontown Though the story is about George and Molly, it begins many years before, around the time of their Great-Great grandparents wedding. It begins with John Hougham Hudson and Elizabeth Ann Walker of Broadstairs in England, who, while still in the bliss of their wedding nuptials, join a band of brave young people who would become the sixty-seven men and women known as the 1820 White Settlers. They leave their Kentish home in England on a small four-vessel fleet departing from Deptford in London. It is the 12th of February, 1820; their destination, Simonstown in South Africa. Quickly we move forward to 1918 when George Hudson is born in Benoni, near Johannesburg. His sister, Molly, joins him fifteen months later. Before they die, both at age 91, they help Molly’s daughter, Gillie, piece together the story of the family.

    And so, this is Gillie Bowen’s story.

    Here is my take on Beneath African Skies by Gillie Bowen.

    Beneath African Skies by Gillie BowenBeneath African Skies reads like fiction but all the time I knew it was a true story that started with John and Elizabeth Hudson in 1820, a young English couple who upon their marriage announced that they were going to make their new home in British Colonial South Africa as part of a British “scheme” to populate the Zuurfeld. The “scheme” was to form a barrier between the warring Zulu tribe and the people to the south. I sailed with them aboard the Zoroaster on their arduous journey full of stormy seas, seasickness and dysentery until they were dropped off in Simon Town, South Africa where they settled in huts in a country so different from the one in which they were born and raised. I then quickly moved through four generations until the births of George and Molly Hudson some 100 years later. And that is where this story truly began and the author, Gillie Bowen, started pulling me in.

    It seemed strange to know that Gillie was writing about her mother’s life over 80 years ago, from birth through childhood, into adulthood and motherhood and all the amazing challenges she and her brother, George, faced along the way in South Africa. I learned of places of which I’d never heard like, Kisumu, Zesfontein, Benoni, Eldoret and Kijabel, and go to others such as the Great Rift Valley, Lake Elementaita, Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha. Then I went to war and found myself holding my breath, wondering if George, or Molly’s husband, Boris, would come back alive. This was real life and sometimes real life can be unfair.

    Thank you Gillie Bowen, for this wonderful journey Beneath African Skies. It was simply… AMAZING!

    Check out Gillie’s Beneath African Skies website where you can find chapters from her book and photographs of the African experience, or go directly to Amazon to purchase the Kindle eBook.

  • Is Anyone Deserving of Death?

    The following is a synopsis of James Paddock’s new mystery, Deserving of Death


    “It was the best of days; it was the worst of nights.”

    Deserving of Death opens with this somewhat familiar, or maybe not, line that keeps running through CJ Washburn’s head. He has worked himself into a frenzy because his girlfriend has gone missing, or so he thinks.

    One might say that CJ Washburn is obsessed with Stella Summers.

    “But at this particular time, this particular night, things weren’t so great.”

    How could he not think to check his email or voice mail or not find the note she had left in his apartment? He runs to the scene of a body dump in fear that it is her, possibly the third victim in what appears to be turning into a serial killing rampage.

    “Was she dead like the other victims, stuffed in a dumpster as though nothing more than last week’s hot chili tacos?”

    Deserving of Death by James Paddock“And this guy calls himself a private investigator?” you might be thinking. A private investigator he is, and a good one at that. However, things certainly get worse before they get better. Women’s bodies keep turning up. He finds, or should I say, nearly passes out on top of the third victim, who turns the case into a Tucson, Arizona serial killing spree. By the fourth victim he becomes a person of interest; by the fifth, the prime suspect and the subject of a manhunt from the Idaho panhandle to Southern Arizona. Bodies continue to drop around him until his deepest fear is pushed upon him and his investigative skills are challenged at the highest level. In a message from the killer he learns that the next victim may be one of the women in his life. In the middle of the night CJ is visited in his “guarded” hospital room:

    “Who are you?” CJ demanded of his midnight visitor.

    “If you were Batman, I’d be The Joker.”


    “Your sweetheart is with your daughter. Your guard, well, she’s getting what her father deserved. For right now the rest of your ladies are accounted for, except your ex, of course, but then she isn’t your lady anymore, is she? But what about that fine looking attorney. Is she one of your ladies, too?”

    “Why are you doing this? What did I do to you?”

    “Nothing… to me.” He looked out into the hall then turned back to CJ. “When you stopped being a cop, you should have stopped meddling in cop business.”

    CJ’s daughter, his girlfriend, his attorney or his ex-wife. Who is the next target of this deranged killer?

    So… who is this Clinton Joshua Washburn, private investigator? Because of the razing he got when Bill Clinton was president, he resorted to simply CJ. Only Stella is allowed to call him anything else and even she knows Clinton is out of bounds. She calls him Clint. CJ Washburn is an ex-Tucson police officer who left the force to save his marriage, hanging his PI shingle. The marriage dissolved anyway, but the PI business still struggles along, surviving on serving subpoenas for Pima County and the City of Tucson, proving or disproving the faithfulness of spouses, and tracking down deadbeat dads.

    As with most divorces, there are kids and sometimes the kids aren’t very happy about the turn of events. CJ’s son, Josh is just such a kid and at 19, one year after CJ and Pat split up, he walks away from them, not to be heard from for six years. And then he finds out that his daughter, Trish, has always known where Josh was. He has to ask:

    “Is he still angry?” CJ asked his daughter.

    “Of course he’s still angry, Dad.” She let loose of his hand and her voice went up an octave. “Hell, I’m still angry. You and Mom getting divorced wasn’t part of the big plan. We were a happy family and then we weren’t. It was like you guys flipped a switch without consulting us first. It came completely out of the blue. Sure, Mom was a bit weird but as long as she was our mom that was okay. Now she’s not only more weird, or weirder, if that’s a word, but she’s also someone else’s mom, and we have step-siblings who demand her immediate attention more than we ever did. And you started becoming weird, too, with quitting the police force and trying to start your own private eye business. You got obsessed with that and then the divorce happened and your children fell by the wayside. I sort of adapted, but Josh did not. That’s why he took off. He couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

    When Josh does return, CJ is the prime suspect in the serial killings, not the best time, you would think, to try and patch over old wounds. Isn’t it odd how life can throw us surprises now and then?

    Does it have a happy ending? you might wonder. Well, that sort of depends on one’s point of view now, doesn’t it? Happiness or lack thereof is subjective and relative.

    Quotes about Deserving of Death from reviewers:

    Alliji “God’s girl” –  “This book is multi-layered, smoothly written and tucked into the heart of the action is a great love story.”

    REgina – “Deserving of Death is a wild ride of suspense and heart pounding action.”

    Vonda Norwood – “This author has an easy style of writing and tells one heck of a GREAT mystery!!!”

    Where can Deserving of Death be found?

    From Desert Bookshelf you can go to your favorite eBook or paperback retailer or… directly to to download to your Kindle or Kindle app.


  • There’s Been a Mars Quake; What’s That Under the Sand?

    Mars Quake or Earth Quake ~ Which Came First?

    When I was asked to read Jon Batson’s Mars Quake, I was inclined to decline, however, my inner voice (see my blog article about my imaginary friends) told me to first check out his Amazon profile. What I found was not only the driving force behind Midnight Whistler Publishers, an independent press located in Raleigh, NC, but also a surprisingly talented entertainer. He has won the Lower Cape Fear Short Story Contest four times and has twice been picked for Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest. In addition to six novels and three short story collections, he owns bragging rights to five Hollywood produced musicals as well several CD’s and a collectible vinyl record. Jon Batson sounded so blasted interesting that I couldn’t help but say yes. Am I glad I did.

    When I received this book I was 25% into another. I don’t generally read more than one at a time, but out of curiosity, I took a peek at the first chapter. Before I knew it I was five chapters into it and didn’t want to put it down. I loved this book so much that I ended up putting the first book aside. It could wait.

    Here is my take on Mars Quake by Jon Batson.

    Mars Quake by Jon Batson Every time Tom Matthews touches people he has memories of past lives–death, marriage, families, battles, what have you, over the centuries and beyond–until, that is, he touches Dr. Dana Wright. The very fact that there is no memory of this strange woman with a PhD in Physics and numerous awards in astronomy, is more appealing to Tom, more exciting than just about anything he’s ever experienced, at least in this lifetime. The question of what Tom’s memories, or lack of memories in the case of Dana, have to do with simultaneous quakes on Earth and Mars grabs my attention and holds onto it because, well, Jon Batson is just that kind of writer. I was confident that these two highly unrelated events would be brought together in some unusual and surprising manner that wouldn’t disappoint, just as I was sure that Tom and Dana were meant for each other from the moment they touched hands. But why quakes in the Bermuda Triangle off the coast of Florida, and the Dragon’s Triangle off the coast of China, exact polar opposites to each other on the earth, and simultaneous quakes at corresponding global coordinates on Mars? These questions couldn’t help but draw me into this fascinating tale.

    One of my favorite quotes in the novel was “This space for rent,” referring to the lines that suddenly appeared on Mars following the earthquake that shook everyone from Miami to Hong Kong. It was at first thought to be some kind of writing or hieroglyphics and people were coming up with all kinds of tongue-in-cheek, as well as serious, ideas as to what the message was that the Martians were trying to communicate, even being pitched on the David Letterman Show as one of his top ten lists, number 10 being a Burma Shave sign.

    The big question was, who was going to ride on Mars Explorer IX on the one-year trip to Mars and back to discover what these strange lines were all about and if they really pointed to life on Mars? Also, what did Tom mean when he said he’d already been there? I couldn’t wait to find out.

    Mars Quake will be available to load into your reading device September 2, 2013. If you happen to be in the Raleigh, North Carolina area on September 8, drop in on Jon at the Raleigh Book Launch, between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. I hear there are snacks and wine involved. Load the following address into your GPS:

    Bosetti Art Tile
    1201 West Lenoir St
    Raleigh, NC 27603


    Jon Batson is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and lives with his wife, Eileen, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Find out more about Jon at www.MidnightWhistler.com and/or www.TheRealJonBatson.com.

  • Writer’s Block – When Your Imaginary Friends Won’t Talk To You

    Do I get writer’s block?

    You’ve probably seen some form of this title floating around Facebook and Twitter—author, anonymous. I sometimes wonder—to myself more than to anyone else because writers generally only have themselves to talk to—do I get writer’s block? My answer is no, by the definition above that is, at least not when it comes to my craft of fiction writing. My imaginary friends are always talking to me.

    You might think I shouldn’t be admitting that I have imaginary friends. I thought about that for a time and then sat down and shared my concern with my imaginary friends over a glass, or two, of wine. The next thing I knew they’d drank my wine and plopped me in front of my computer. “Go for it!”

    Without imaginary friends, I’d get nothing done

    If my wife hands me a birthday card for one of the kids or grand-kids and says, “write something,” then yes, I get writer’s block. When my boss says, “I need a couple thousand words on the Dung Beetle to handout at the meeting next week. Give me a draft before you go home today. Write something and knock my socks off.” That’s when I get serious writer’s block. My imaginary friends are suddenly absent, busy doing their hair or plucking their eyebrows.

    Being stymied is not the same as writer’s block

    When it comes to the craft of fiction writing, however, whether short story or novel-length, I have no problem. That’s not to say I don’t get stymied now and then with whatever I’m working on. When I open to my novel-in-progress, I always make progress. Granted, it might not be in adding word count. If I’m stymied on where the story is going or the characters are taking on a mind of their own and ignoring my vision, or I’ve written my protagonist into a corner and can’t figure out how she’s going to get herself out, I might drop back a chapter or two and spend some time reading and editing. This could go on for a couple of hours, a couple of days or even a couple of weeks. I still consider it progress; I’m advancing toward the completion of my story.

    Even writing this blog is progress in my craft

    Anything I do in my craft I consider forward progress, including writing this blog. Like the majority of novelists, I am not a professional. That is I don’t make a living at it. I barely make cappuccino money. As a result there is no more pressure than what I place on myself, as long as my day job can keep me in cappuccinos. I sometimes consider what would happen if I were to wind up with a deadline from say one of those illusive publishers. Would that raise the wall, shut down the computer, snap the pencils, squash the creativity, send the muse and my imaginary friends away? If I should become the success all novelists wish for, should I be worried about the resulting pressure to produce? Should I be worried about the writer’s block? Should I tell the publisher I had a lot of help from my imaginary friends so that proper credit can be assigned?

    Should I be weary of what I wish for?

    All that worry is for another time. Meanwhile I need to get onto the Dung Beetle. I’ll drag my imaginary friend out of the bathroom, only half of her eyebrows plucked, and together we’ll make something up. My boss didn’t say it couldn’t have a protagonist and villain, a battle between the roller dung beetle and the dweller dung beetle in a mysterious pile of elephant dung on a hot, dusty day in southern Arizona, a deadly poison, a broken fly swatter, and a dark place beneath a rock.

    I love my imaginary friends.

    I sure hope they continued to love me.


    James Paddock’s imaginary friends have assisted him through 8 novels, including a Time-Travel Duo, and a Sabre-Toothed Cat Trilogy. They can all be found in ebook or paperback at desertbookshelf.com.