New Review for The Other Side of Hope

Jeff Provine, author of Hellfire (click here to read my review) recently reviewed The Other Side of Hope and published his thoughts on BlogCritic.com. He wrote a fantastic review and I was pumped up to see how he really got the themes of the story.

Click here to read Jeff’s review.

Isn’t that great? I love it because it’s thoughtful and engaged with the content, not just a simple, “Oh yeah, I loved it.” I think it also does a great job of sharing enough details to get people interested without giving anything away. Probably even better than the blurbs and back cover copy I’ve written myself!

What do you think of Jeff’s review?

Review: Tales of Mist and Magic by Marya Miller

The Bottom Line

A fun, (mostly) lightly-hearted collection of fantasy flash fiction. The stories are connected by virtue of being set in the world of Dragonish and sharing a few key characters.

B+

The Review

If flash fiction isn’t your thing, don’t let that stop you from picking up Tales of Mist and Magic. Because it’s not usually my thing, either. If light and funny isn’t your thing, you also shouldn’t let that stop you. I had actually come across Marya Miller’s website a while back (I don’t remember how) and wondered away without reading anything because I got the impression I wouldn’t be interested (again, I don’t remember how). So I’m very glad that Josh brought this book to me because it is well worth the read.

There’s not a whole lot of bad things to say about this one. Honestly, the biggest complaint I have is that it’s a collection of flash fiction stories and not a full novel. My second biggest complaint is that it’s a bit too light hearted for my tastes. I like fiction that’s heavy and on the dark side just a bit (pun intended). So let this be your warning that you won’t find much dark material in Tales of Mist and Magic.

You will, however, find quite a bit of wit. While they might not be as engrossing as a full-length novel, these bite-sized stories are packed full of humor and ironic twists. For some light, humorous reading, you can’t do much better than Tales of Mist and Magic. The writing is superb and I enjoyed almost all of the stories. My least favorite is actually the very first one, so don’t let it deter you when you pick it up. Most of the stories are entertaining but not necessarily enduring. A week after finishing the book, I can’t say I remember most of them. I do remember the key, recurring characters, though, and I harbor a strong desire to spend more time in the world of Dragonish. That is the great brilliance of Tales of Mist and Magic because there is a full-length novel coming that will feature those memorable characters and take us deeper into their stories.

So here is another warning: if you read Tales of Mist and Magic, you will end up buying Marya’s novel when it comes out.

I said I didn’t remember most of the stories, and that’s true. But there were some that stuck with me. Two to be precise: “Like Father, Like Son,” and “The Meaning of Flowers.” These two flash pieces stray ever so slightly from the light hearted humor that characterizes most of the collection to hint at a more complex world behind the jokes. “Like Father, Like Son,” is actually quite dark but in a subtle way. Since I enjoy subtlety as much as dark fiction, this one is easily my favorite in the bunch. “The Meaning of Flowers” hints at tragedy without exploring it in depth and gives us insight into one of the main character’s background. It retains the bubbly humor of the collection in most regards but still manages to inject a profound truth that resonated with me. So it makes my favorite list as well.

I don’t want to give the impression that the other stories aren’t good, because they are. The whole collection is an entertaining read, if not an engrossing one. This book is the perfect thing for those of you who “don’t have time” to read. Reading a single story won’t take more than two minutes and, by the time you’re done, you’ll be so hooked into the world that you’ll find the time to read Marya’s novel when it’s released.

Click here to read the first story from the collection. The full collection has not yet been released but I will tell you right here when it is. You can also sign up for Marya’s email list to stay up to date.

To Read or Not to Read

Read. Absolutely read. Tales of Mist and Magic is fun, quick, and easy to read but you’ll still come away with some nuggets to chew on. Best of all, you’ll find unique characters to love and look forward to seeing more of.

Review: Hellfire by Jeff Provine

The Bottom Line

An alternate history/steampunk adventure with a touch of supernatural thriller and strong spiritual themes that will hold your attention with its intriguing premise and interesting plot. Held back primarily by weak character development.

C

The Review

I was excited to get to Jeff Provine’s Hellfire because it’s the first alternate history we’ve reviewed on The Wrambling Writers. It’s also got a healthy does of the supernatural mixed in with the alternate history and that’s something I’m always down for.

The premise is that a crystalline fire-enhancer known as Newton’s Catalyst has jump started a steam-driven industrial revolution ahead of schedule. It’s set in an 1856 filled with airships, steam-driven wagons, powerful locomotives, and an abundance of steel technology. But there’s a catch. The catalyst is also opening doorways to another dimension and monsters are coming through. The resulting story is a supernatural, alternate history, steampunk adventure that tackles issues of faith, technology, and government corruption.

On a broad level, I really enjoyed it. It’s an interesting concept, the story is intriguing, and I was never bored. When you get down to the details, though, I found it lacking in a few places.

Hellfire’s biggest weakness is its characters. I wanted to like them, but never really felt a connection with any of them. Provine does a good job of not ambushing us with character backstory early on, mostly working their histories in throughout the story. There is however, a lull in the action near the book’s final act, during which we get exposed to one character’s story in more detail. It’s done through conversation, so it’s not awful, but it comes too close to info dump for my tastes.

The biggest problem, however, was that the characters simply didn’t feel alive to me. Perhaps because their battle against the evil Rail Agency has little connection to anything personal in their lives. They go on their quest because each of them is thrust into it and they have to either fight to survive or die. There are no real personal stakes or goals tied directly to the large scale events of the story. That leads to a cast of characters who all feel more or less the same, so that it’s sometimes easy to forget who’s talking.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know that I’m really picky about dialogue. Really picky. The dialogue in Hellfire is not bad by any means. It’s just not great either. It’s solidly average. There are some good moments, a few bad ones, and mostly just middle grade, passable dialogue. It gets the job done.

Another big point for me is a book’s ending. I haven’t decided what I think of Hellfire’s ending yet, even though I finished it a few days ago. The very final pages do a good job of wrapping up the immediate story while making it clear where the characters are going from here. That combination of resolved-yet-open-ended can be difficult to strike and I applaud Provine for hitting it. What I’m less sure about is the actual climax a few pages earlier. The story is full of the supernatural, with God and demons playing important roles. So the divine intervention required to save the day isn’t wholly out of place. But it is a bit convenient and takes some of the thrill out of the high point. Again, it’s not awful, but it didn’t knock my socks off.

Like I said, I did really enjoy this book. The alternate history elements are very well done and we get small hints about what’s different in the world without ever being subjected to a boring (alternate) history lesson. The passing reference to Napoleon’s use of airships to invade Britain was brilliant. I absolutely love those subtly dropped details. They create a world that was fantastically built and which plays an integral part in the story. I love world building and Jeff Provine nailed that part of Hellfire.

The story itself, in the sense of plot, is also very interesting. Even though I wasn’t particularly invested in the characters, I still cared enough about what was going to happen to keep reading. And that’s because the plot was interesting and the twist was surprising, while not coming from so far off the radar that it felt implausible.

To Read Or Not To Read?

If you enjoy alternate history at all, you should read this book, no doubt. The biggest caveat is that if you’re easily turned off by spiritual themes, it’s probably not for you.

Review: Kingsley by Carolyn O’Neal

The Bottom Line

Well-written, with an exceptional plot and realistic characters. Kingsley is an engaging book that will you make you stop and think about the impact we’re having on our environment without beating you over the head with its message.

B+

The Review

Kingsley is classified by author Carolyn O’Neal as a dystopian eco-thriller. Even if you don’t know that means right away, I’m sure you can see why I was intrigued by the description. And really, it’s very simple to decipher. It’s a dystopia with strong ecological themes and a science-driven end to society as we know it.

The basic premise is that there a disease that causes brain tumors in everything with a Y-chromosome. Meaning every male human and animal on the planet. It starts in a few different mammals, then spreads to humans, sparking worldwide chaos. You know how too many independent books have a great premise but fail to deliver a story that matches? This isn’t one of those books.

Kingsley is a fantastic read packed with great characters and interesting twists. I have just a few minor complaints, and I’ll get them out of the way first.

The biggest was the dialogue. There are spots, especially near the beginning, where I felt like the characters came across just a little bit stiff. Almost like they got to the point too quickly. One early scene in particular involving a divorced couple and the wife’s new fiancee could (should?) have been charged with tension and unspoken hostility. Instead, the characters said exactly what was on their minds. It got the issue out in the open but it felt a little forced and weird. But that was a rare problem and most of the dialogue flows much more smoothly.

The other was the structure. I won’t go into this too much because Josh and I talked about this point a lot in our review on The Wrambling Writers podcast, but I basically would have built the novel a bit differently. There’s nothing wrong or even bad about the way it’s done. There are just some abrupt transitions that I would’ve handled differently myself. You may read it (you should read it!) and not even notice.

Now the good!

The story itself is top notch. Fascinating concept and excellent execution. It’s well paced with enough excitement to keep you going and just enough space to let you catch your breath. The characters are all very well-developed and there is no dead weight at all. Every character you meet feels real. Some of them are likable, some are detestable, some are annoying, some are pitiable. But they’re all real.

The absolute best part is the perspective. I’ve seen so many writers drop the ball on perspective, by head-hopping or some other common mistake, that I get really excited to see one do a decent job in this area. Carolyn did more than decent when it comes to perspective – she nailed it. In fact, Kingsley could easily be a case study on great perspective.

Part of the brilliance is that we’re seeing the end of the world from the perspective of a 14-year old boy. So a lot of the high level details are appropriately left out. You won’t hear anything about governments, local or national, deal with the crisis because Kingsley is only concerned about his headaches, his mother, and his crush, Amanda. The world is falling apart all around him, but you only know that from context clues. It’s not the focus and it makes the collapse seem that much more real and frightening.

The science that underpins the story is also very well research, lending a further tint of realism to the whole thing. I worried early on that we were going to be subject to long lectures on environmental issues but that never happened. Still, the science is there, driving the plot and making the events seem more plausible that you’d like to believe they are.

The ending wasn’t quite perfect, but I still liked it. That coming from someone who’s very picky about endings. I don’t want to give anything away, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

Best of all, the book has a strong environmental message that it communicates without being “preachy.” Whatever your opinion on various “green” initiatives, Kingsley is guaranteed to make you stop and think.

To Read or Not To Read

Read. Absolutely 100% read. I’m going to put the link right here again so you have no excuse not to go read this book.

Are you reading yet?