Free Kindle Copy of The Other Side of Hope

Exciting news! I’m giving away thirty copies of the The Other Side of Hope! All you have to do is answer a brief survey and you’ll be entered to win! Just click here to get started!

The Other Side of Hope is a war drama set in a world in which the global roles of Christianity and Islam are switched. It is a story of loss and revenge, of redemption and hope. You’ll see a virtually unrecognizable North America mired in poverty and religious extremism. A devastating terrorist attack in Istanbul, Turkey, the thriving economic center of the world, touches off a war driven by revenge and fueled by mutual hatred and misunderstanding.

Fast-paced and exciting, The Other Side of Hopehas been called “flawless,” “captivating,” and “powerful.” Don’t miss your chance to read it!

Q&A From the Islam Sci-Fi Anthology

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Islamicates Volume Inow is the time! It’s a free short story anthology, so what do you have to lose! As an extra bonus, IslamSciFi.com has also released a brief Q&A with the three winners of the contest (which includes me!). It’s a chance to learn a little more about the writers, where the stories came from, and what else we’re working on. Who knows, you might find a new author whose work you want to follow!

Islamicates Volume I is Out

Technically, it’s been out for a couple of weeks now, but I was slow to notice and share it with you. I shared a few weeks ago that I placed 2nd in a Sci-Fi short story contest run by IslamSciFi.com. Well, that story is now officially available in Islamicates Volume IIt’s an anthology of the best stories from the contest, including my entry, “Inshallah.”

The anthology is completely free and available for download in a wide range of formats, so there’s no reason not to go check it out! I just downloaded my copy and I’m looking forward to reading the other stories! Take a look, then let me know what you think. And don’t forget to sign up to get more free stories from me!

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?

Review: A Minger’s Tale: Beginnings by R.B.N. Bookmark

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.

D+

The Review

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.

Book Launch Party!

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!

Review: Capitulation by Liberty Speidel

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.

B+

The Review

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.

I Got Second Place!

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.

New Podcast Episode

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!

New Review for The Other Side of Hope

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!