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: 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?

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.

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.

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!

Review: Retaliation by Liberty Speidel

Bottom Line

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.

B

The Review

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.

Review: Emergence by Liberty Speidel

Bottom Line

Fascinating world, interesting story, mildly fresh spin on two well-trodden niches. But the writing is sub-par and the spin isn’t that fresh.

C+

The Review

Emergence is the first in a series of three novellas that make up The Darby Shaw Chronicles by my fellow independent author, Liberty Speidel. The trilogy’s tagline is “A superhuman detective novella” and, based on what I’ve seen so far, it delivers on that promise. It’s a mash-up between a next-step-in-human-evolution approach to mutants with powers and a police procedural. Well, this first installment is really more of a juxtaposition than a mash-up.

It starts off all police thriller, with an end of shift call to a domestic violence incident that quickly becomes a murder scene. Then it morphs into a political drama about the rights of mutants with special powers. These superhumans, as they’re called in this world, have been around for some time, but our protagonist, Darby Shaw, has a new ability that some government agencies argue puts her in a different category. Then we jump into a detective story with a bit of mutant powers dashed in for the climax. All of that in seven chapters.

All in all, it’s not a bad book. It’s a quick read at just about 50 pages with an interesting story, a fascinating world, and at least a couple of deep characters. However, the writing feels a bit awkward in places, particularly the dialogue. And the whole middle chunk will very familiar to fans of other franchises that have already explored the idea of the government going after mutants (Heroes, The Tomorrow People, and X-Men have all been there in multiple media). With all of that combined, I had a hard time getting into the story, despite its bright points.

Among those bright points is a very unique world. Unlike TV shows like Heroes and The Tomorrow PeopleThe Darby Shaw Chronicles picks up decades after superhumans have become commonplace. There is a Superhuman Bill of Rights in place to protect them and the chaos documented by those TV show I mentioned above is a distant memory for most citizens. Some people in Speidel’s universe have accepted superhumans and get along with them, while others remain fiercely prejudiced against them. A scene with a police chief referring to Darby’s powers as “witchcraft” captures that attitude well. Another highlight is Darby’s partner, Mark Herman. While many of the characters, especially the government officials from the middle act, feel very flat and boring, Mark is quite well-rounded. He has a believable mix of good and bad traits that makes his interactions with Darby very entertaining.

Overall, I’m giving Emergence a C+. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t really stand out either. I will say that I’m excited for what’s coming next in this trilogy. Liberty has already heard the substance of this review on my podcast and she agrees that Emergence could have been better. She also says that the following installments are better.

To Read or Not To Read

Read. It’s not perfect, but it’s only 50 pages long and, best of all, it’s free. If you like detective stories, mutants, or both, you’ve got nothing to lose by picking this up.