Book Review of “Close Quarters”

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“Close Quarters” was published in 2015 (August) and was written by Adrian Magson (http://www.adrianmagson.com). Mr. Magson has written more than a dozen novels, this being the second of his ‘Marc Portman’ series.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through https://www.netgalley.com. I would categorize this novel as ‘R’ as there are instances of Violence and some Mature Language. This Thriller novel is set in contemporary times, mostly in the Ukraine. The primary character is Marc Portman, former military and special forces, now a contractor who takes on close protection jobs for various US and UK government agencies.

State department officer Edwin Travis has been sent to the Ukraine to try and establish contacts with pro-west groups. He is taken into custody by one of the groups of militia. Portman is sent in to facilitate the extraction of Travis, but things go wrong. Instead of protecting from the shadows, Portman must step in and perform the extraction himself.

They must dodge Russians, Ukranian militia groups that are pro-Russian as well as elements of the Russian mob. As Portman battles to save both Travis and himself, he, and his handlers at the CIA, soon discover that there is someone high in the US intelligence community that is working against them.

There were almost 6.5 hours of action and intrigue in this novel. I liked the plot and characters, though it felt like it ended more suddenly than it needed to. I give this novel a 4.5 (rounded up to a 5) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com).

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Book Review of “The Clouded Sky”

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“The Clouded Sky” eBook was published in 2015 (May) and was written by Megan Crewe (http://www.megancrewe.com). Ms. Crewe has published 6 novels, this being the second of her “Earth & Sky” trilogy.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through https://www.netgalley.com. I would categorize this novel as ‘PG’ as there are a few instances of Violence and intimate moments. This Young Adult Science Fiction novel is set in contemporary times. An alien race has placed Earth in a time bubble and has been manipulating Earth’s history for centuries. The primary characters are 17 year old Skylar, a High School Senior, and Jule, who is a few years older than Skylar and one of the aliens.

This novel picks up immediately after the first novel (“Earth & Sky”) ends. Skylar has agreed to join Win and his colleagues as they return to their home, Kemya, to continue the fight. They determine that Skylar should live with Jules as his ‘pet’ earthling. Skylar discovers that most of the people from Kemya look down on the earthlings. She finds that there is even a zoo of sorts with earthlings on display.

The group, with help from Skylar, continue to work towards their goal of destroying the satellite that is generating the time bubble. They soon decide that there is a traitor in their midst as the Enforcers seem to show up too frequently for it to be simple chance. Skylar makes surprising progress learning the Kemyan language. The group arranges for Skylar to attend some Kenyan functions and pick up what she can, as being an earthling, no one expects her to be able to understand their conversations.

Skylar starts out with Jule reluctantly, but as they spend more time together their feelings for one another rapidly grow and surpass the simple kiss she had shared with Win. As they approach the time to strike the satellite, Skylar uncovers the traitor, and they must commit immediately to attempting to destroy the time bubble generator.

I spent a little less than 8 hours with this novel and frankly enjoyed it more than the first volume. There is more suspense and thrills with this novel. I give this novel a 3.9 (rounded up to 4) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com).

Book Review of “Earth & Sky”

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“Earth & Sky” eBook was published in 2014 and was written by Megan Crewe (http://www.megancrewe.com). Ms. Crewe has published 6 novels, this being the first of her “Earth & Sky” trilogy.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through https://www.netgalley.com. I would categorize this novel as ‘PG’ as there are a few instances of Violence. This Young Adult Science Fiction novel is set in contemporary times. An alien race has placed Earth in a time bubble and has been manipulating Earth’s history for centuries. The primary characters are 17 year old Skylar, a High School Senior, and Win, who is a couple of years older than Skylar and one of the aliens.

Win breaks protocol and lets himself become known to Skylar. She soon finds out that Win is part of a small group of the aliens that are trying to shut down the time bubble around Earth. Despite the danger from the Enforcers who are trying to stop Win and his colleagues, Skylar agrees to help Win.

They spend several days together, hopping around time on Earth. They have narrow escapes from the Enforcers, and they soon are drawn to one another. Skylar is faced with the challenge of discovering that Earth is an experiment to the aliens, as well as dealing with her own issues that came about from the disappearance of her older brother some 12 years earlier.

I enjoyed the 6.5 hours I spent with the story. It contain adventure, a few thrills, as well as a little romance. The plot is an interesting one that gives a fresh look at time travel and alternate history. I give this novel a 3.5 (rounded up to 4) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com).

Product Review of Live Desktop

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I came across the App ‘Live Desktop‘ a couple of weeks ago on sale for free in the App Store. Live Desktop is only one of the Apps produced by Halfbit. I decided to give the App a try since it was being promoted for free. The idea of the App is to create a dynamic wallpaper page that shows the time and weather. I installed the App and it worked . . . sort of. I use a multi-monitor configuration, and Live Desktop does allow for that. After installation I configured it for my location and chose a desktop to be displayed on each of my monitors. It worked . . . for a while.

Then suddenly I would have Live Desktop only on one of my monitors and it would be showing data for the wrong location. After I went through this a couple of times I gave up on the App. It is not one I would recommend. You might have more luck with it though if you are using only a single monitor.

Pros

  • Free
  • Configurable

Cons

  • Intermittently fails

See my other OS X articles


Book Review of “The Last Moriarty”

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“The Last Moriarty” eBook was published in 2015 (May) and was written by Charles Veley. Mr. Veley has written five novels, but this is the first in nearly 3 decades.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through https://www.netgalley.com. I would categorize this novel as ‘PG’ as there are instances of Violence. This Mystery Thriller novel is set in London, England of 1895. The principal characters are the familiar Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. The story is told from the viewpoint of Watson.

The story takes place in the period after Holmes battled Moriarty at Reichenback Falls. The public is not aware that Holmes has survived, but the British government and key clients are. Holmes and Watson are drawn into a situation involving the British government and American financial/industrial leaders – Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Carnegie.

A murder leads to a plot to prevent the meeting between the government and Americans from taking place. The rebuilt criminal gang left behind by Moriarty is involved and being led by someone new. Holmes also finds that a woman he had known before he became the well known detective is somehow involved.

There is mystery and suspense with this story that is told in the same style as the originals created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The 6 hours I spent with this novel felt like I was reading the original Holmes stories. I do hope that the teaser at the end of the novel that there will more stories to come proves true. I give this novel a 4.4 (rounded down to 4) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com).

Book Review of “The Field of Blackbirds”

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“The Field of Blackbirds” eBook was published in 2015 (May) and was written by Thomas Ryan (http://www.thomasryanwriter.com). This is Mr. Ryan’s first novel.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through https://www.netgalley.com. I would categorize this novel as ‘PG’ as there are instances of Violence and Mature Language. This Thriller novel is set primarily in contemporary Kosovo. The primary character is Jeff Bradley, who has retired from the SAS and now has a vineyard in New Zealand.

Bradley travels to Kosovo to discover what has happened to his vineyard manager, Arben Shala. He meets Morgan Delaney who is there working with USAID, and who had briefly met with Shala. Bradley at first is unable to find any trace of Shala, but does encounter a few who he thinks are criminals and have something to do with Shala’s disappearance.

Before long Bradley is introduced to Lee Caldwell, a US official that appears to have ties to the CIA or another clandestine agency. Soon he finds that not only is he mixed up with organized crime, but that there are also ties to terrorist bombers as well. Things are further complicated with his growing attraction to the young Ms. Delaney.

I spent about 7.5 hours with this novel and found it to be engaging, though I do think that there could have been more to it. There was action and suspense. The plot was good enough, as were the characters. I give this novel a 3.5 (rounded up to 4) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com).

Japanese Testing Robot Receptionist

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In late April the new ‘Chihira’ robot appeared at the reception desk of the Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo. She is very lifelike and is certainly approaching, if not crossed into, the ‘uncanny valley‘. The robot is modeled after a 5’5″ 32 year old Japanese woman and ‘wears’ a silicone body to make her look almost human. Toshiba, the developer of ‘Chihira’ in collaboration with the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University, will likely be introducing ‘sister’ robots in the future. As for now this seems to be mostly a demonstration of technology and somewhat of a gimmick to bring in customers as the robot is limited to just pre-recorded messages for now.

How would you feel if you walked into a store and found a very human like robot?

References:

Book Review of “Linear Shift”

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“Linear Shift” eBook was published in 2015 and was written by Paul B. Kohler (http://paul-kohler.net). This is Mr. Kohler’s first novel.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through https://www.netgalley.com. I would categorize this novel as ‘PG’ as there are a few instances of Mature Language and Mature Situations. This Science Fiction/Time Travel novel is set in contemporary times as well as in the 1940s, mostly in San Francisco and France.

The main character is Peter Cooper. Cooper is unemployed, drinks too much, is a widower and has two children still at home. He has many bills and is about to loose his home when he is approached by General Applegate, whom he vaguely remembers from his enlistment in the Army many years earlier.

Applegate recruits Cooper to join in a secret mission. A mission that will take Cooper and three others back in time to 1942. The mission is planned to slightly alter the timeline and shorten World War II. A secret society, the Global Nation Initiative, is aware of work on time travel and have been doing their best for decades to see that research into time travel is not successful. But the Society would like to see World War II end sooner.

I found the plot to be very interesting and different. Unfortunately I found the story to be a little on the dull side with some facets of the story difficult to accept, such as the trip by steamer from New York to an occupied France, then back. There were many sub plots, not all of which were really addressed in this story. Perhaps they are the seeds for a sequel. So many things happened to Cooper and his fellow travelers that the contemporary time line would be heavily disrupted. I felt that this novel had far more potential than resulted with the end product. I give this novel a 3.5 (rounded up to 4) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com).

Book Review of “The Dragons of Dorcastle”

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“The Dragons of Dorcastle” eBook was published in 2015 and was written by Jack Campbell (http://www.jack-campbell.com). Mr. Campbell has written nearly 20 Science Fiction novels. This is the first of his “Pillars of Reality” series.

I obtained a galley of this novel for review through https://www.netgalley.com. I would categorize this novel as ‘G’. This Young Adult Fantasy/Steampunk novel is set in another world. The two main characters are 17 year old Mage Alain and 18 year old Master Mechanic Mari.

They come from different guilds with very different and opposing outlooks. Each guild considers the other a fake and sham. Both consider the other human inhabitants, the ‘commons’ of their world far beneath them. The Mages use spells and magic to manipulate the world, while the Mechanics employ simple machines. The respective guilds hold the knowledge they posses closely so that none but their members are privy to the skills. Both guilds contract out the services of their members to which ever common is willing to pay.

Mari and Alain are thrust together after the caravan they are riding in is ambushed. Alain had been hired to protect the caravan, but the bandits attacked in overwhelming force. Alain and Mari escape, then rely on one another’s skills to survive. They soon establish a friendship. Once they make their way to town, their respective guilds criticize them for speaking with the other. Both have a history of bucking the system, so this incident leaves Mari and Alain suspected by the elders of their guilds.

Both though find that there is something beneath the surface, something that may tear the guilds as well as the rest of the civilized world apart. Though they are instructed to stay away from one another, they seek each other’s help. Together they investigate and find that there is another force at work beyond their guilds. A force that is willing to kill a Mage or a Mechanic if they get in the way. Before long Mari and Alain find that their friendship has grown to more romantic feelings, something that they cannot let any in the guilds discover.

I have liked Jack Campbell for some time, having read most of his “Lost Fleet” series. I thought that this was a good start on a new series. I liked both of the characters that he created and am looking forward to the next novel in the series. I give this novel a 5 out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com).

Hawking Cautions Against AI Again

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Just a few days ago, speaking at the Zeitgeist 2015 Conference in London, Stephen Hawking warned again of the threat that AI driven computers may overtake humans. He stressed that we need to insure that when that day eventually comes, AI must “have goals aligned with ours.” Unlike some who think that the rise of AI may be only a couple of decades off, Hawking expects that it may take nearly 100 years. While many scientists are concerned with how to control this smarter AI, Hawking raised the concern as to whether it can be controlled at all.

So as we get smarter assistants like Siri on our phones and self driving vehicles like are being developed at Google, we need to insure that those systems learn to keep our welfare and survival in mind.