Book Review: Beyond the Hidden Sky (Star Trails Tetralogy, #1) by Marcha A. Fox @startrailsIV

A well-deserved review by a savvy author about the work of a wonderful story-teller!

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About The AuthorMARCHA

Marcha Fox is a prolific writer who has addressed a wide variety of subjects but her favorite is science fiction. It began as a love of astronomy which eventually led to a bachelor of science degree in physics from Utah State University followed by a 21 year career at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where she held a variety of positions including technical writer, engineer and eventually manager. Her NASA experiences included trips to Cape Canaveral in Florida, visiting other NASA centers in Mississippi, Alabama and Maryland as well as trips to the European Space Agency in The Netherlands but the most memorable was the sad task of helping to recover space shuttle debris in East Texas following the tragic Columbia accident in 2003.

Her Star Trails Tetralogy Series incorporates her knowledge of physics and space travel within a family saga set on a primitive…

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Krab Kaper, short fiction for RRBC!

Welcome, Rave Reviews Book Club!

Today we’ll have five winners, each choosing any Stephen Geez or GeezWriter book, print edition or ebook.

 

Krab Kaper

Short Fiction

By Stephen Geez

Featuring Characters from Fantasy Patch

 

Some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.

I don’t know why, but this critter won’t eat the stuff, instead preferring collards and other greens.

So imagine warm light, cool breeze, a splash of gurgling water, eight explorable square feet, one climbing ladder of latticed sticks, a thatch of tasty greens beckoning from above, and our hero methodically clawing his way upward for all he’s worth—which is normally about five bucks, free if you simply pick him up, as Taj did.

    It’s a hermit crab, about the size of a jawbreaker, the landlubber version found in tropical beach-side brush.  This crab and its three crabby cohorts hail from Gulfcoast Florida, having hitched back to Chicago in a sack of shells collected by the four-year-old son of my youngest producer.  I normally frown on taking souvenirs from sites above water and below, these being nature’s mobile homes for myriad denizens wet or dry, but young Taj didn’t know better, so no major harm.

I help him and three other kids, all now dedicated hermit-crab owners, as they outfit a large terrarium in the day-care area of our video-production facility.  Dabbing quick-clean non-toxic paint, each decorates his crab’s shell for easy identification, this despite my warning that these critters often change houses for better fit and to runway-strut the latest in chic crab style.

We provide a small plate of corn meal, little-bit fruit bites, and other crabby snacks; but for some reason the one now climbing after the greens always decides to pass when it’s offered mere iceberg.

Apparently, some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.

So we’re watching the crabs one day when my friend/client Flynn Durbett stops by with a sackful of test products designed for kid safety and/or fun learning.  Flynn’s the soldier-of-fortune character first introduced in Stephen Geez’s novel Invigilator, way back before he settled down a bit and founded a company dedicated to helping people protect themselves from a dangerous world. He needs some marketing hooks, packaging, design—anything I might contribute as his agency-of-record creative director.  My name is Danté Roenik, but Flynn’s been occasionally calling me “The Image Maker”—ever since I deigned to narrate Stephen Geez’s novel Fantasy Patch, the tale of my infamous tilting at pharmaceutical-conglomerate windmills. Yikes! Turns out windmills are quite willing to shred anybody who dares get in their way.

Flynn shows me a sort of child’s poncho boasting swirls of fabric stitched to hold pocketfuls of kid-stuff—tearaways for safety, elastic gathers to avoid strangle-strings—all topped by a nifty hood with sewn-in sweatband crafted such that side panels pull away to ensure full peripheral vision when young street-crossing bike-riding skater-boarders turn their heads to look both ways.  Flynn has inked a distribution deal with a chain of big-box stores, a test-market roll-out in the Chicago ’burbs, but the product needs a name, a hook, and some cool images laser-screened on the front and back.

Big-eyed Taj dons the smallest in Flynn’s Santa-sack, and I’m instantly reminded of a hermit crab, the swirling shell, this spiky-haired lad peering out from under the hood, his expression that sneaky escapade-plotting look of appraisal often found on little kids and littler crabs.


I notice the real crab has reached his goal, now perched atop the ladder, contentedly munching his greens as I paint an art-deco shell design onto one of Flynn’s pullovers.  The kids all want them, but each prefers to paint his or her own design.

And there’s Flynn’s hook: “KrabbShells,” pre-screened as a plain hermit shell, each including a small set of disposable fabric markers so pint-sized fashion plates can customize unique looks—or visit Flynn’s company website for ideas and templates, a safe place to share photos of their own and to admire the works of other young artists.

Next we paw through Flynn’s collection of new products.  I’m intrigued by a tiny ball with a slot that reveals a mini-light and magnifying glass with tiny tweezer and gripper.  They prove especially handy for examining real crabs up close and personal.  We all want one.

Flynn trundles off to meet with the big-boxers.  They’re lucky to be working with such a good man who values loyalty and integrity, one who looks out for others and the world we share—unless you cross him or try to hurt a friend, but that’s a longer story, actually two, both attractively priced in print or multiple ebook formats.

So KrabbShells sales rapidly climb that ladder for the big-box stores, and Flynn’s company feeds on the green, but we’re not in control of the promotion, and Flynn’s contract doesn’t confer veto power over the unacceptable: our retailer starts offering one free hermit crab with every KrabbShells sale.

I do encourage responsible pet ownership for young people to learn about caring for others.  Hermit crabs aren’t endangered, and they’re certainly not dangerous, but I have a pet-store-chain client who rightly rails against such indiscriminate pet-mongering.  Buy a hermit from one of her outlets and you’re not getting out the door without the proper habitat, supplies, how-to pamphlet, and a thorough conversation.  Living creatures are not toy prizes; they should be entrusted only to those who truly want them and will properly care for them.

The big-box buyers dismiss Flynn’s objections, opting instead to enforce their contract in lieu of maintaining good faith between retailer and supplier.  We’re all angry about this, including the kids and their chums, most of whom want to voice their outrage.  After some serious hand-wringing over where to draw the line between exploiting young’ns and nurturing their burgeoning need to self-express, I do what people so often pay me a lot of green to do: I orchestrate one bodacious media spectacle, nationwide coverage, a public-relations cesspool to mire the mid-city big-box headquarters of these crass exploiters of innocent crabs.

So picture this: more than two-dozen subtly supervised teenies and tweenies dressed as hermit crabs, their hand-painted KrabbShells emblazoned with “Kidz for Krabs,” a crusading cadre marching sideways in the cutest camera-calling crabwalk you could ever imagine. These irate squeaky-voiced orators are delivering little-bit sound bites for sympathetically amused on-the-scene TV reporters, crowds gathering to gawk and chant, our urban beach awash in a growing tidal wave of righteous indignation.

In a surprising move, egregiously unprofitable for successful builders of bigger boxes, our adversaries opt out rather than address the problem, apparently preferring to retreat into their shells to avoid fostering an image of cavers-in to special-interest pressure.

So Flynn gets his product back, then re-launches with a smaller big-box that’s been angling to out-box the bigger big-boxers.  Cranking up the Danté publicity machine proves a cakewalk—a crabwalk, as it were—after the impromptu kid-protest already raised awareness about the irresponsible, um, spreading of crabs.

Besides, offering free KrabbShell handhelds that open to reveal a tiny light, magnifier, and tweezer/gripper crab pincers starts piling some serious green on Flynn’s plate.

Taj’s crustaceous little friend promptly moves himself into a bigger, more stylish shell, and the young’ns all learn about making planet-friendly choices when their own careers someday find them climbing that ladder in the age-old quest for a little bit of green.

It’s a lesson fit for a sound-bite:

Some lettuce just leaves a bad taste.

 

Thanks to Rave Reviews Book Club for the attention today!

 

Discover Dante and his media-manipulating crew in Fantasy Patch by Stephen Geez!

Thanks again!

 

“Fantasy Patch”–Another 5-star Nail-biter from Stephen Geez

I certainly appreciate Marcha Fox’s taste in novels!

Marcha's Two-Cents Worth

fantasypatchcvrWow! What a ride! I’m still trying to catch my breath since finishing this fast-moving suspense thriller. In fact, sometimes it moved so fast, I felt left behind in the dust. The immediacy of the story is beyond gripping, told in first person/present tense through the eyes of protagonist, Danté Roenik. So “present”, in fact, you don’t even know his name for several pages. Kind of like meeting an interesting, good-looking, charismatic guy at a party who’s telling a good story. You really don’t care what his name is, you just want to be part of the excitement along with the other enchanted guests. This served as a very clever and effective writing tactic outside the mainstream, for which the author once again definitely earned my admiration.

This is the third Stephen Geez book I’ve read and this man must have multiple personalities because each tome’s style, at least the…

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Discussing Book Trailers!

Well said, Beem!

The Indie Spot!

Once upon a time, authors, no matter the talent level, needed a big machine known as the publishing house, to get their work into the hands of readers across the globe. Publishing houses offered cash advances, secured shelf space in all the leading retail shops, and made sure the media received advance copies for the purpose of writing reviews of the project at hand.

Unfortunately, getting published by the big machine proved limited in potential for most writers. Your work wouldn’t even find its way to a publisher without first getting discovered by an agent. And even if you did manage to catch the eye of one of these middlemen, you still weren’t guaranteed that big advance, the prime spot on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, or the five star review from the New York Times. In fact, writing for 95% of those who fancied themselves authors was…

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Welcome RRBC Book Trailer Tour Visitors!

Board ye, board ye, on the RRBC Holiday Train “Book Trailer” Block Party!

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Location: Alabama, USA

Today’s Prizes: Big winner gets $10 Amazon gift card and personalized print edition of Fantasy Patch by Stephen Geez. Four medium winners get print editions of Fantasy Patch. Stephen Geez will need snail mail addresses for sending them.

Greetings! Thanks for visiting my new website with lots of expanding features and an embedded blog that interacts with WordPress. I finally replaced my beloved old site of nearly twenty years, a Dreamweaver-platform showcase that still proved very popular but wasn’t mobile enabled. This new version of StephenGeez.com will grow with poignant essays and short fiction, but with the addition now of videos and soon-to-produce podcasts, especially video-magazine podcasts. Please follow the blog, share it and like it and give it a hug, if you want; and come back to find more shorts and Geez books in the rest of the site.

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Book Trailer: Please check out my Fantasy Patch trailer produced by us at Fresh Ink Group. I write a wide variety of book genres, usually trying something new each time, and Fantasy Patch proves the point. It’s my only novel narrated in the first person and in the present tense, and it’s my only media thriller. Please leave a comment to qualify for one of the prizes, then like it and share it and, if you want, give it a hug. Please spread the word! Find out if you one by visiting here, and be sure to check here to find out who else is offering terrific book videos on the tour this month!

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Filling My Jar

An Essay

By Stephen Geez

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That online behemoth known worldwide as Amazon has been messing with my lightning bugs.

 

“Lightning bugs” are what I call them because my people are from the Southeast USA. I grew up in Michigan where people tended to call them “fireflies,” but since those wonderfully incandescent glimmers of dancing whorls never appeared in my bulldozed and sodded maze of suburban streets, I figured the Southern folks who lived among them earned the privilege of naming them.

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glow-worm-147679 PixabayLightning bugs use their lights to advertise, which for them is the most effective way to gain attention in hopes of making connections. They rise into the open spaces and show off their best. As an author, I have to show my wares in retailers, my book covers glowing, glossy blurbs shining, in hopes of making reader-buyer connections. Amazon owns the biggest field where my works dance, and with that comes privilege, too.

ant animation At around age four, I traveled with my family to Tennessee to visit kinfolk. On a warm June night the fields around us came alive with whorling twinkles of intermittent lights. I’d never seen anything like that, and it fascinated me profoundly. My Southern kin thought nothing of these wonders. That wouldn’t be the last time I noticed people’s tendency to grow accustomed to—and eventually indifferent about—the spectacular beauty of their everyday worlds.

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file9661335317700 (Morgue)I wanted to see lightning bugs up close, so having been assured they don’t bite, I scrounged a glass jar, cajoled my father into nail-puncturing some holes in the lid, and set about collecting several specimens. The first few mesmerized me. Wow. Christmas lights in June, with no wires, alive and independent, right there in the air, in great numbers. I found them delightful!

ant animation I found my lightning bugs so fun, I decided I would like to add to my collection, so I chased down and caught a few more—then a few more, and even more. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point my fascination with looking at a few of these wondrous beetles turned into a quest to collect as many as I could. Surely I had more lightning bugs than any other kid in the world.

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file0001798228008 Filling My Jar (Morgue)Coming to check on me, my father suggested maybe I had enough, that a small jar might not have enough air, that at some point I would need to release them so they could go on about their lightning-bug business. I would hear none of it, not with so many more waiting to be caught.

Then I fumbled the lid.

ant animation It fell and rolled away. As I tried to retrieve it while covering the jar with my small hand, a whole mess of those flashing wonders quickly escaped. By the time I got the lid secured, I’d lost most of my lights.

And I started to cry.

My father didn’t understand. I’m not sure I did, either.

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All I remember of the rest of this story is that at some point I realized I’d never really needed so many lightning bugs. A few good ones to enjoy for a time, to learn from, to eventually let go, well, that proved to be quite delightful in its own right.

CounterAuthors like to collect book reviews on Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, GoodReads, and other sites, especially reviews that praise the work, offering up four or five stars, making our books shine brightly in a crowded readers’ retail field.

 

Still, lately Amazon has been simply removing reviews, making them disappear without warning. They use sophisticated algorithms to decide a reader posting a review might somehow know the author, such as by following him or her through social media. Often these connections are tenuous or even irrelevant. Sometimes they come from honest efforts to support indie authors with honest reviews of each other’s work. Still, Amazon does what it wants, nothing personal about it, and that means sometimes those algorithms will knock the lid off our jars and many of our favorite reviews will float off into the ether.

For many of us, at least the ones who strive for some modicum of introspection, it causes us to pause and wonder if we’re counting reviews and boasting the numbers like trophies. Amazon has taken some of my highest-rating reviews, yanking those five-stars right out from under some of my books, mostly because the writers belong to clubs I have joined. Well, hmmm.

Still, another five-star “Gosh, I really liked this book” might not say quite as much, after all, either to us authors or other potential readers. I like a somewhat lower rating by someone who paid attention and really got what the book is about—then wrote a thoughtful review meant to give us real feedback. Besides, a lack of reviews might just say that a book’s particular readers are not the review-posting types, so when someone does take the time, it means that much more.

flashing yellow stars

ant animation Lightning bugs can be delightful, but they come and go. We should enjoy them, learn what we can during the brief time we have them, and accept that sometimes they will fly away. Nothing is gained from crying about them. I know reviews count, but I try not to count them.

Still, I’ll hold on to the lid, um, in case you and your friends want to help me, you know, catch a few more!

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flashing yellow stars

 

Star Trails Tetralogy Blasts Off!

star-trails-fox-graphicI’ve not been reading much science fiction lately because so much of what I see is cliche, derivative, and too often targeted at narrow audiences such as action for young men or teen-romantic for the YA audience. I expected to read the first of this tetralogy and fall out, but after reading a novella by the same author, I started the series with fresh enthusiasm. Marcha Fox surprised me with a great story that carried a series of arcs all the way through, not just one conflict for the entire plot.

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I’m old enough to like many of the classic sci-fi conventions, and Marcha Fox proves she is well versed in those great traditions while bringing many new approaches to the genre. Her complex and intimate characterization reminds me of Robert A Heinlein. Her seamless integration of real science with an eye toward plausibility reminds me of Asimov. Her big-picture themes made me stop and think in ways Arthur C. Clarke could. Best, I think, is that like great classic sci-fi writers (think Sturgeon, Pohl, Anderson, et al) she sees the entire story and sets up every plot twist so it all meshes.

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I love this kind of writing. I don’t like revealing plot details in reviews, preferring instead to say what I liked or didn’t, whether the writer is skilled or not, and if the story delivers. I don’t award five stars lightly, but this series earned them easily. If you like simple plots and basic arcs with cliche conflicts and obstacles like Maze Runner and its ilk, this material might prove too mature for you. If you like to immerse in worlds where paying attention to all the details pays off, I highly recommend this tetralogy. I’m a fan of Marcha Fox.

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