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The Sightseers Agency

The Sightseers Agency (The Dreadnought Collective Book 5)5 Stars

The Sightseers Agency picks up with Richard Pencil leaving the government position he took up at the end of the previous book. With the new world order well underway, the big three-letter agencies are breaking up, and Richard is going back to work with Joe Fraser and the man known as the Inlooker. Richard also has an impressive upgrade to his extra-sensory detective powers. He’s joined by a new remote-viewer, Miss Plum Duff, whose talents were honed by alien intervention. Fraser hires them to launch the the Sightseers Agency, reporting to him and their mysterious benefactor. Their mission is to oversee the behavior of elected officials, and another secret goal is revealed later. Seb Cage, who is now a talented computer security specialist (along with the skills he gained from the Sombrella Syndicate), joins the agency as well.

The Sightseers soon discover that the greatest threat to earth isn’t just from rogue officials and politicians, but also hostile aliens who have been planning an attack for some time. Complications arise because some of the aliens on Earth are friendly, while some are more like tourists who take on human form just to experience something different. Ms. Plum Duff comes into her own here, since she, like Seb, has a long history with regard to aliens.

Like the previous agency novel, there is an overarching plot that is played out in several different investigations. While the book is described as a series of whodunits set in the future, each case is a link in a chain that ultimately brings conflict on both a personal and global scale. I was glad to see more about the use of psychic mind-reading to ferret out lies and criminal activity, and the manipulation of auras and even the soul itself. There’s also the fascinating angle of this “new world” society, run on a democracy-on-demand system with a goal toward a true meritocracy. While some of this society’s social practices seem dystopian, others, like the use of Tesla’s wireless transmission of energy, offer a utopia of readily-available power.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed throughout the Dreadnaught series is the author’s vivid imagination. His notes at the beginning of the books give real-world tales of psychics and UFO phenomenon that act as the launch pad for his stories. His humor and wordplay are also in full force, with inventive non-cuss words, ribald comedy—especially when it comes to Richard and his Lothario tendencies—and the continued jokes about “potties,” which are ubiquitous self-driving transport pods, giving “on the throne” a whole different meaning.

Overall, this series has been fun to read. The major recurring characters are so unique, each with their own set of skills, flaws, and quirks, that it’s a delight to follow them from one adventure to another. The Sightseers Agency ties up a lot of loose ends, answers questions, and ends on a hopeful note and fans of the series will be satisfied by the ending.

Pages: 307 | ASIN: B01KBAKX1E

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Uncle Stubby Gets Married

Uncle Stubby Gets Married4 Stars

You need to be able to tap into a certain flavour of whimsy in order to write a good children’s book. Let’s not forget that the illustrations need to be catchy and colourful to hold the attention of the little ones either reading or being read to. A children’s book is most entertaining when it spins a different point of view on something that children have already been exposed to. Uncle Stubby Gets Married by S. Jackson and A. Raymond takes the idea of simple squirrels and marriage and melds them together. This book is part of a series with other animals and their lives. Perfect for children, this book draws out the marriage between Uncle Stubby and his betrothed Sparkles as their friends and family travel to help them celebrate it. The story is full of kindness, cheer and all the good feelings weddings are supposed to elicit.

The language in this book is very simple. It may be difficult for a child who is learning to read but it is perfect to read to a child. The pictures are bright and interesting, which should help keep the attention of the audience. At the beginning of the book there is a comprehensive breakdown of the entire story so parents or teachers can determine if the book will suit their needs or themes. As it takes place in the Valentine Forest, this is a good book to read around Valentine’s Day, if you are looking for theme-specific books.

The images are, for the most part, real photographs of various animals manipulated to be posed or displayed in a certain way. There are little additions like a crown or the plethora of sparkles and these add to the story. It is interesting for children to see ‘realistic’ pictures of animals they are familiar with engaging in very human activities. It allows them to have a sense of imagination and wonder just what exactly squirrels get up to when humans aren’t looking. The one downside to using manipulated photographs is that when a character appears that is either created by hand or through computer graphics they stand out a fair bit. This occurs with the Mouse Fairies in the Valentine Forest. Their appearance is a stark contrast to the other characters in that they are fully clothed with added hair. They are more anthropomorphic than a photo-enhanced squirrel with a sash around its waist.

Nitpicking aside, Jackson and Raymond know how to craft an interesting children’s tale. The story is cute and even though it is part of a series, it can stand alone quite well. Readers do not need previous knowledge of the characters to understand the story in Uncle Stubby Gets Married. For children, and maybe even adults, who have a fantastical view of the world this is a lovely tale of romance, happiness and friendship.

Pages: 40 | ASIN: B01MY5NJF0

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The Husband Who Refused to Die

The Husband Who Refused to Die4 Stars

There is no road map for how to properly deal with becoming a widow, but what if you can’t even be sure you really are? Thanks to cryonics, this is now a real question to consider. Carrie’s husband Dan is decidedly dead, gone from an apparent heart attack, but can she really be called a widow? Can she grieve like one? She laughed when he first mentioned it, but now Dan has left her in emotional limbo, having opted to have his body frozen while his life is “suspended”. The plan is to come back one day, after science figures out the other end of the process. His wife was to join him, but Carrie has other plans. As Dan’s body is packed up and shipped off to some distant future Carrie will never be a part of, she is left to pick up the pieces with her daughter Eleanor and face life as a grieving non-widow. Two years later, old, painful and mysterious flames are rekindled, but just what secrets they shed light on remains to be seen.

There are many themes to unpack in The Husband Who Refused to Die. The ethics of “playing God”, rich vs poor, the effect of death on a family, and the difficulty of moving on in grief are all touched on to varying degrees in this work. Carrie makes a valiant effort, but are there too many forces at work against her?

While Carrie tries to figure out how to grieve for a husband who is not really dead, their daughter Eleanor must navigate the same sorrow, but for a father who is also not dead but is still gone forever. She also has the added hardship of being a teenage girl who was already having a rough time, and her classmates who are happy to make it worse. Eleanor wishes she’d never heard the word “cryonics”.

Sunny, Carrie’s aptly-named sister-in-law, is an outwardly positive reflexologist with a stone, potion, or remedy always at the ready. This is a result of the crunchy-hippy life Sunny and Dan’s parents raised them in, which Sunny never grew out of. Sunny is there to support Carrie, but lately their interactions seem to be less about helping Carrie to grieve and more about pressuring her to abide by Dan’s wishes.

Two years later, Carrie has learned to get through her days, and is trying to be a good mother to troubled Eleanor. Carrie has rekindled an old flame, but even this brings more questions, mostly about the shroud of mystery surrounding the end of their previous relationship. I felt this came to a somewhat unsatisfying resolution, as Ashley was let off the hook a bit too easily.

Eventually, the circumstances around Dan’s decision to be frozen become a source of public controversy, and of course he is not here to face it. Now Carrie is left to answer for the alleged actions against her husband, regarding something she never wanted him to do, and has been a giant source of pain for her and her family. As questions about the selfishness and ethics of donating money to be cryogenically frozen begin to arise, the press begins to close in. Angry letters give way to hate mail, which eventually turn to threatening calls, and eventually Carrie finds herself in real danger. Worst of all, could the things they are saying about her husband true?

Darby has offered a humorous and unique new take on the age-old story of loss, grievance, and perseverance. Although some parts did drag on a bit longer than necessary without adding much payoff, for the most part the story moved along nicely. Anytime it started feeling at all predictable, interesting new conflicts would arise, deepening my sympathy for Carrie. This was a fun read which raised lots of questions that would be difficult to answer if I were put in the position to do so. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Pages: 320 | ASIN: B01N1KK7JI

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Modern Day Cowboy: The Making of a Gunfighter

Modern Day Cowboy: The Making of a Gunfighter3 Stars

The novel Modern Day Cowboy: The Making of a Gunfighter depicts the life of Mattie, a young woman living in the middle of nowhere, Canada. Mattie struggles to recover from a painful incident which took the life of a mentally disabled boy that she cared for, and as a result, Mattie takes up employment at the local gun shop in town. It isn’t long before the owner senses Mattie’s need for revenge, and sends her to a boot camp in Arizona to train to become a gunfighter. She quickly becomes proficient at her newly acquired trade. But being rising talent comes with many disadvantages, as other female gunfighters come out to challenge Mattie. When she’s not off to a fight, she is conflicted with feelings for her contract and love interest, David. When his safety is threatened, unlikely friends come to Mattie’s defense, and old histories begin to reveal themselves.

What’s most interesting about this story is the idea of real life gun-fighting. The concept is very unique and Nathaniel Sheft really brings this hobby to life with his novel. The possibility of the organization, a multi-billion-dollar underground business, where women are trained for months at a time to go out and kill each other in a few brief seconds is fascinating. It’s even more empowering that the novel focuses on the sport as it is played by women. Sheft really challenges gender roles and introduces us to some of the most conniving, evil, clever, and entertaining female characters throughout this book, and it’s nice to read through a novel where the protagonist is a strong female character. Mattie’s transformation from depressed, isolated girl, to confident a, in your face, woman is what gives the story it’s flavor. She shows readers that you don’t have to be drop down beautiful or have any sort of history in etiquette. As long as you’re determined to accomplish your goals, you’ll be alright in the end.

The drawbacks to this novel however was that the writing style fluctuates between being great and just okay, especially when it came to dialogue or the inner monologue of characters. When any of the characters were joking or angry, their dialogue came through as more aggressive, however, the language was more colloquial – some slang words here, mispronunciations there, which is fine. However, it was unbelievable for every character to speak in that manner when they were angry. Also, throughout the book, we get a lot of David and Mattie’s inner monologues. These are so elegant, almost philosophical, especially with David. It’s such a strong contrast to the average, or less than polite language found throughout the rest of the novel. It seems that many characters in the novel have the same sort of inner monologue, so it doesn’t leave room for much originality in the words and thoughts of the characters. The language used to describe a scene was jumbled or vague at times which made it difficult to figure out the setting, who was talking, what action was going on, and what point in time the story was actually taking place.

Overall, the idea behind Modern Day Cowboy is intriguing and leads to fascinating possibilities.

Pages: 487 | ASIN: B01LXC2GTL

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