Our first interview on the Wrambling Writers podcast went live a couple of hours ago! We got to talk with Liberty Speidel, author of The Darby Shaw Chronicles. She jumped right in and wrambled along with us on everything from her books, to Donald Trump, to Star Wars. Go check it out and leave a review for the podcast on iTunes.
The Bottom Line
A string of entertaining stories that are never really connected. It’s worth a few laughs but don’t expect much depth.
I’m not a reader of memoirs or much other non-fiction. I write novels and I read novels. But when we received a review request at The Wrambling Writers for A Minger’s Tale: Beginnings, I figured I’d give it a shot. A quick perusal of the sample sent by author R.B.N. Bookmark looked promising so I dove in. I tell you that I don’t read memoirs as a bit of a disclaimer. If you’re a fan of them, you might like this book a lot more than I did.
I’ll start with what I did like. The book reads like a collection of stories your father or grandfather might tell you. Quick, fun episodes from a life you know little about. Many of these story snippets are entertaining and I enjoyed Bookmark’s sense of humor in most of them. Since the author grew up in Manchester, I learned a great deal about life in England that I did not know before, so the book had educational value for me in that sense. The main thing that kept me reading was an expectation that the story was going somewhere. That all these disparate tales would be woven together into a greater whole to reflect the profound life lessons learned while collecting them. There was no hint of this along the way, but I was convinced it would happen eventually.
And that’s where the book really falls flat. While the individual stories are entertaining, there is nothing to connect them beyond simple chronology. There’s plenty of potential for it, particularly as some of the stories are very interesting. But when we reach the end, the flow of recollection simply stops and the last page is turned.
Perhaps some readers will enjoy the stories on their own, but I was hoping for something more and was let down. In Bookmark’s defense, he never promised anything more, so this element of the review is certainly subjective. That’s why I say readers of memoirs may enjoy this far more than I did. Other Amazon reviewers certainly seemed to. Personally, I think it would have been stronger had he taken a handful of these stories, filled them out some more, and built them around a single theme. Something more coherent than a simple string of recollections.
Beyond my critique of the overall structure and goals of the book, I found that the writing itself was sometimes awkward. Rarely bad or wrong, but often not as smooth or polished as it could be. It reads like the writing of a man with a strong natural talent for writing who has yet to spend time honing his craft. It follows a very predictable pattern where nearly every paragraph is punctuated by a bit of dry humor. Humor that frequently made me chuckle, but became monotonous before long because of the routine manner in which it was deployed.
I do hope Bookmark continues to write. I would actually love to see him write some fiction, perhaps even based on some of the life stories he shared here. But I can’t say that I enjoyed this first outing.
To Read or Not to Read?
Not. I hate saying this, but I can’t recommend this one. Maybe it’s my bias in favor of fiction (especially speculative fiction) but this one was a miss for me.
Don’t forget to check out my discussion of the book with Josh on The Wrambling Writers when Episode 5 is released on August 31.
Last week I got to sit down with Daniel Puckette from the Times Virginian to talk about The Other Side of Hope and the book’s launch party coming up this weekend. We had a great chat and the interview just got published yesterday both in print and online. You can read it here and learn a little more about the book and how I got to this point. Plus, it’s another reminder not to miss the book launch party on Saturday at Baines’ in Appomattox from 12 to 3!
Who doesn’t love a good party? Who doesn’t love a good book? So why not put the two of them together and come out to Baines’ Books and Coffee in Appomattox this Saturday?
I’ll be there from 12 to 3 in the afternoon, signing books and making friends. It would be awesome if you were one of those friends! You can stop by anytime, say hello, get some coffee (or tea if you’re like me), and pick up a signed copy of The Other Side of Hope. Baines’ is a great place to hang out and find fantastic books so don’t miss it!
The Bottom Line
All around better writing and a fantastic twist make this an enjoyable read. It’s only held back slightly by a lackluster resolution.
I’ve been reading Liberty Speidel’s The Darby Shaw Chronicles for what feels like quite a while now, but I finished the third book last week. It’s taken me a little while to get my thoughts posted here for but they’re finally up! You can also hear my discussion of the book with Josh on The Wrambling Writers podcast.
The first thing you need to know about Capitulation is that it continues to upward trajectory Liberty has been following since Emergence. Each book in the series is better than the last and I’m honestly hoping she’s got more coming because I’d love to see another Darby book even better than this one.
A big weakness of the first two in my opinion was that they were very predictable. Retaliation (the second book) had an interesting story but I was never surprised. Not once. Capitulation however managed to get an audible exclamation of surprise out of me when the big twist hit. I’m not going to say anything more about that because I hate spoilers, but I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it.
The structure of this one is a bit different from Speidel’s previous outings as well. Darby and Mark are working a case throughout most of the book but that case isn’t central to main character drama. Very much like a detective/cop/mystery television show where’s there a new case every week but underlying drama between the characters that connects everything. I love that structure and Speidel uses it well for the most part. That case keeps things moving and even ties in to main story. In fact, the biggest problem I had with Capitulation came after that case gets closed because the pace started to lag and I felt like I was spending too much time listening in on random conversations that drug on just a touch too long.
In general, the characters are deeper, the dialogue is sharper, and the writing is just plain better than the previous two books. It’s been awesome watching the development of Liberty’s craft from one book to the next. Again, I’m really hoping there’s more, just so I can see more improvement!
Where it’s really lacking is in the ending. After that big moment I mentioned earlier, the plot drags and wraps up in a really dry way. On top of that, there are several bigs questions left hanging. Though I’m told they might get answered in the short story that’s included in the edition that includes books 1-3 in a single volume. I’ll get back to you on that.
To Read or Not to Read
Read. With no hesitation at all. This is a highly entertaining book with great characters and an interesting plot. You won’t regret picking this one up and I’m sure you’ll be waiting with me for the next one.
A few months back, I entered a short story contest. That’s not something I do often but this one was a perfect fit for a story I’d been sitting on for a while and didn’t really have any particular plans for. That story is called “Insha’Allah” and deals with issues of free will, God’s sovereignty, and technology from a Muslim perspective. I’d sent it to a magazine or two without getting accepted but I wasn’t really shopping it around too hard.
Then I found Islam and Science Fiction on Twitter and soon ended up reading about their Islamicate Science Fiction Short Story Competition. Since that’s a bit of a mouthful, the short version is that it’s for sci-fi stories with some connection to the Muslim world, whether through characters, setting, themes, or something else. With “Insha’Allah” just sitting on my hard drive, I figured I had nothing to lose by entering it. I sent the submission and mostly forgot about it. Until I got an email saying that I’d won second place in the competition!
You can read the announcement here and be on the lookout for news about when the FREE anthology of all the best stories from the competition will be released.
On Friday, I had the honor of being featured on the blog of a fellow independent author. Sherrie Marshall runs a brutal blog schedule, posting five days a week at Sherrie’s Always Write. I really don’t know how you do it, Sherrie! I guess one of the many tricks she has up her sleeve is something called Freelance Friday where she brings in a guest writer once a week. This Friday, that guest was me!
I shared a few tips on how to cut unnecessary words out of your writing. So if you want to see some about that, check out the post here, leave a comment, then explore the rest of Sherrie’s site.
In case you read my review of Retaliation last week and have been waiting to hear the full discussion on the book, your wait is over. The third episode of The Wrambling Writers is available on our website and on iTunes. The review format is a bit different since Josh was too swamped to get through the book. So it’s a Q&A instead of a traditional review. But I think you’ll still enjoy it! Check it out, then let me know wha you think!
I just wanted to briefly share a review that The Other Side of Hope received yesterday. It’s from a Japanese author and is easily the most thorough and positive review that’s come in so far. The reviewer managed to grasp not only my goaks in writing the story but also pick up on the techniques I used to accomplish those goals. But my favorite part is this:
This is so moving. My soul is deeply moved.
I have been living long enough to know that, sometimes we suddenly encounter a chance to sense the true meaning of an incident we’ve experienced after a long time have passed since that occurred. It is rare, but I know, it can happen, as if it is a miracle, or grace. This novel “The Other Side of Hope” is the story about that kind of hope.
That’s what I love to hear from my readers! Please take a moment and read the whole review on Amazon then share your own thoughts on the story. I’d truly love to hear what you think!
Same intriguing world as Emergence with a better story and improved writing. An odd plotting decision holds it back, but a big step up for sure.
Retaliation is book two in Liberty Speidel’s superhero detective series, The Darby Shaw Chronicles. If you read my review of Emergence, you’ll probably remember that I wasn’t very impressed by it. I wanted to like it and I did like the world, but the book itself fell flat for me. However, Liberty told me that she thought the series got much better as it went along and it does make sense for a writer’s craft to improve with time and practice. So I was genuinely looking forward to reading Retaliation.
I’m happy to say that I was not let down. There is a significant improvement in the overall writing and the pacing of this story. Darby’s partner, Mark Herman, was my favorite character in Emergence and he’s back to play a big role in this book. He continues to be well-rounded and interesting and he’s really the main character here, making “Darby Shaw Chronicles” a bit of a misnomer. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but Mark is really center stage on this book. That’s not a complaint, because I like the character, just an observation that the title doesn’t quite fit.
My biggest critique concerns the plot and structuring of the story. It begins with a flurry of action that drew me in right away – then falls back to “six weeks earlier.” Even though I’m predisposed to dislike that strategy for hooking my attention, I resolved to keep an open mind. After all, people do get it right on occasion. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be one of those occasions and the story dragged until it caught up with its starting point.
Once we reach that point, the plot moves along nicely and I never found myself wondering when something was finally going to happen. It’s an engaging, though predictable, story that continues to explore the conflict between governmental authority and individual rights. The conflict is driven by a new development in Darby’s powers and we get hints (carefully placed, subtle hints) of another development that I suspect will play a role in book three.
If Emergence was not free (and very short), I would recommend that you begin your reading of The Darby Shaw Chronicles with Retaliation. The first installment of the series is inferior to this second one in many ways and is really more of an extended prologue. You can pick up on everything that happened in Emergence as a matter of backstory while reading Retaliation. However, Emergence doesn’t cost you anything but the hour or so it will take you to read it. So you might as well be fully informed going into book two unless you’re really pressed for time and storage space on your eReader of choice.
To Read or Not to Read
Read. If you liked Emergence, you’re sure to love Retaliation because there is nothing but improvement. If, on the other hand, you didn’t care for Emergence (like me), Retaliation is still worth your time and it just might redeem the series for you.