Book Review: The Directorate

Last year, I reviewed Gambrel’s ING4. I found ING4 from Twitter or Gambrel’s website or some such thing and bought it when it was on a free weekend.

And it was fantastic.

I bought The Directorate when I got the additional boost from Peter Martuneac’s recommendations on Shepherd. If Martuneac says a military fiction is ok, I definitely believe it.

The Book

The Directorate
Author: Berthold Gambrel
2018
Amazon Link

This book, while filled with excitement and plenty of action, should fulfill anyone’s requirements for cleanliness. Part of this is just that the people and characters are real instead of “morally gray” monsters.

I hate giving spoilers in indie book reviews, but for this one must. It’s also now a few years old, so should be fine.

Non-Spoiler Review

WOW. If you’re looking for a quick read with a lot of feeling, this is a really good book to enter. The universe is as deep as space, and the plot(s) are compelling, but what really drives this book is the characterization.

Let me delve into the plot caveat right quick, and then I’ll get back to why the characters were so great.

In this book, there were essentially two plotlines: one in the first half of the book, and the other in the second half of the book. At first I was skeptical of this because it felt like the first half could have been stand alone as a novelette. There were two entirely separate plot structures to the halves, and each had a similar ending in how the main character’s situation had changed. And, after finishing the book, the two halves probably could have been sold separately, but they work better together. I believe the two halves were meant to be compared and contrasted.

Theresa Gannon is the mentee of Captain Hartman. This relationship is much deeper and better than most relationships between officers you see on TV (and way better than what you’d see in, say Star Trek). There’s a very platonic mentor-mentee relationship, and yet you can feel the tight connection and love between them. Hartman and Gannon speak to each other like real people, and yet what can drive them apart is exactly what brought them together in the first place: military order.

After the events of the first half, Captain Hartman goes away physically, but she remains a psychological force for Gannon. Gannon thinks about Captain Hartman often when she interacts with Conley, a lieutenant under her, and with Nathalie, a young student at the Nightingale Station Academy. At this point, holy crap do the foils set in. It’s a fantastic, rich comparison of characters and relationships. Dig back into your high school English knowledge, my friends, because we’re about to get into the spoilers with gusto.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILER Review:

Captain Hartman had been an excellent mentor to Gannon. The Hartman in the first half serves as a great foil for Gannon in the second half, and not just because Gannon tries to emulate her. Hartman’s trust, which Gannon mistreated accidentally in the first half by following the orders of charismatic Colonel Adams, shows up in the second half as Gannon’s trust of her new mentees.

Conley, who was placed as a Lieutenant under the newly promoted Captain Gannon, should be in a position to receive Gannon’s training. Gannon herself sees this similarity between herself and the plucky Conley, and she tries to be a good mentor. She’s patient with Conley as she teaches things she’s learned through experience, and she very carefully tries to not lash out despite being on edge after the battle on Mars. Gannon also finds a mentee in the form of Nathalie, a 15 year old student at the academy who tries to break through Gannon’s security team and measure for what I like to call “funsies.” She tries to nurture Nathalie through a potential spot of trouble and encourage her to use her incredible intelligence for good. They form a relationship somewhere between mentor-mentee and parent-child, which was interesting and good.

Nathalie and Conley, however, are foils to the Gannon of the first half of the book as well as foils to each other. Whereas Gannon herself was split on how to handle Colonel Adams and his false warnings about Hartman’s loyalty, Conley and Nathalie have no inner conflicts. Conley represents the half of Gannon that had followed Adams, and Nathalie represents the half of Gannon that wanted to stay with Hartman. The way Conley becomes cruel and traitorous represents what Gannon hates within herself, the actions that Gannon feels guilty about, and Gannon’s trapping Conley out of the elevator and out of the elevator was (at least somewhat) a sign of her moving on. It was a symbol that Gannon was finally breaking away from the half of herself that followed Adams and selecting who she would be.

Conley’s betrayal also had implications for the way the chain of command was played by Adams to get what he wanted. Just like he’d done with Gannon, Adams had convinced Conley to play her superior officer. Conley brought the story of the first half of the book full circle to the second half. While Gannon saved Mars by her quick thinking in part 1 and Nightingale Station in part 2, her change of position from mentee to mentor and from inferior to superior officer keeps Hartman’s influence alive throughout the whole book.

Nathalie, who was young and impressionable, continued to follow Gannon through to the end of the book. She represented the relationship Gannon wished she’d maintained with Hartman. By choosing this relationship over Conley’s, I believe Gannon successfully repudiates her “betrayal” of Hartman. By choosing to stick with her mentee despite it all, Gannon shows that she took the lessons of Hartman and that Hartman had always seen that spark and goodness within her.

What I’m Reading Next:

I’ve got some things to catch you guys up on! We’re going with The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to get a little further through that good ol’ Amazon’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die that I do every year.

Chel, I’m on the wait list for Cat’s Cradle at my library. I’ll read that when it comes in!

Book Review: The Outlands

The author sent this book in via my Review Request form! Which reminds me – you can send in requests again, as 2022 slots are open!

The Book

The Outlands
Author: Tyler Edwards
2021
Amazon Link

Though this book is a gritty post-apocalyptic romp, it is surprisingly clean. The author makes use of the sci-fi trope of using fake swear words to get around using words like “shit”, for better or worse. While there is violence, it’s neither grotesque nor bloody, and I think most people can handle this.

I will not be doing a spoiler review for this because it is too new.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book is what I would call “Pretty Fun” – there was quite a bit of action, fast-paced segments, and a very clear good-guy vs. bad-guy situation. It was easy to root for the protagonist and his pals, which I find important in an action packed book.

One of the things that contributed mightily to the book’s successful plot was the well-defined stratifications of the society. The city of Dios, where the vast majority of the book takes place, is a caste-stratified theocracy. Edwards builds the society to a very detailed precision, and he places his main characters in an underdog situation that feels hopeless until the inciting incident. When Jett, a charismatic guy with a powerful sense of charisma and oration, teams up with Vic to make things better for the Undesirables, you can feel the momentum. When characters like Lilly, who is not an Undesirable, become important, things get more complicated and the harsh differences between the castes can blur. Very applaudable setting.

And holy mackerel. The twists. It’s chock full of them (is this a spoiler?) all the way to the end. It’s got all sorts of duplicity. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t see the last few twists coming, and I’m usually very good at predicting these sorts of things. At the same time, once the twists were revealed, I could look back and see how there had been evidence of the betrayals, the secret alliances, and more. That’s a sign of good construction.

Something to be aware of is, however, the overall feel of the book. While it is a self-contained story with a powerful plot and an identifiable good guy, it does also feel like a “prequel”. Without spoiling too much, by the end I was pretty sure that the next book in the series (which has been released, by the way) would be entirely different from this one. Though this book is definitely worthwhile, it felt like the setup for another story, not the main story in and of itself. It threw me for a little bit of a loop, but the conclusion is satisfying because of aforementioned twists and revelations.

There were a couple items that I would improve. While the basic proofreading type of editing is extremely well done in the front end of the book, it slowly devolves the further you go. It never gets bad enough that you can’t read it – by no means does it do that – but near the end it has a few places where it can draw you out of the narrative. The author says he’s working on getting this fixed in further updates, though, so I wouldn’t be afraid to buy this book, put it at the end of your TBR, and get a fresh, updated copy when you get to it.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

This year, I’m not doing reading lists; instead, I’m going to be publishing posts as I read. However, I’m going to cheat a little bit this month because there’s four great indie books (including the one you just read about here) I read last year that are SCREAMING to be posted on the blog. Next in line is military sci-fi novella The Directorate by Berthold Gambrel.

Book Review: Bottled Memories

The author of this book, Ritter, submitted this to my Review Requests page! I agreed to read it, and here you are with a review.

The Book

Bottled Memories
Author: David Ritter
2020
Amazon Link

I didn’t know Ritter before he popped in on the site, but here you go! An honest review.

I will admit that I may have bias due to shared faith. There is a lot of Christian references, imagery, and themes to the writing that you should be aware of if you’re considering this chapbook.

Non-Spoiler Review

Ritter’s book about his journey through addiction and recovery is emotionally intensive. Some of the poems describe quite horrible things that happened to him, around him, and to other people. He paints a story that does not hold back details, even the sordid ones. While I don’t think anything is especially triggering on its own, I do think it’s possible a reader may feel emotionally connected or otherwise drawn in by the book and its characters.

When I think of this poetry collection in its totality, I think of this as a sort of “wilderness poetry.” No, not like Ansel Adams or John Muir type wilderness – I’m talking the Israelites in the wilderness, or Jesus during the 40 days of temptation. In Christian mythos/theology, a wilderness period is a time in one’s life of indeterminate length during which there is suffering or struggle. The wilderness implies a “lostness” or a “search” in addition to deprivations or struggle. While much of Ritter’s poetry reminded me of Kevin Parrish’s What Words May Come, this set of poetry had a stark difference in that it marked one wilderness period and faith journey rather than a gamut of life lessons. Its themes and progression were very well done.

The poetry within the book is well done. I know a lot of people don’t like rhyming poetry, but I do, and Ritter does an excellent job coming up with new rhymes throughout. My biggest complaint about the compilation, however, lies in the steadfastness with which he sticks to the four-line stanzas and rhyming couplets or rhyming on alternating lines. Only six of the 28 total poems did not have this format. I would have liked to see greater variety.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Like I usually do with collections, I will choose 3 poems to talk about more specifically. My favorite, one that sticks out from the rest, and my least favorite.

Favorite: The Kind Man
I think this poem was probably chosen by Ritter as the central piece of the work, given that it is in larger font and tells a story with beginning, middle, twist, and end more readily than some of the others. The twist is easily expected, and yet it’s that payoff of getting the twist that made this poem one of my favorites.

Standout: Alone once Again
This one had that “haunted” flavor that just crept under my nails and hair. It just doesn’t sit well in the soul, and yet you can’t look away for hope that the speaker will change his wayward ways or that the mythical “you” and subject of the poem might show up. After reading “The Flower Never Blossomed,” just a few poems later, “Alone once Again” takes on an even more vicious and important meaning.

Least Favorite: Had My Share
Whether purposeful or not, the first line “I’ve had my share of constant sorrow” got me off on the wrong foot with this poem. It reminded me of the tune “Man of Constant Sorrow”, which while I enjoy the song, it’s too easy and too often referenced for a pop culture item. After that, the poem felt relatively repetitive after such goodies as “Material Things” which had a fairly similar message.

What I’m Reading Next:

This year, I’m not doing reading lists; instead, I’m going to be publishing posts as I read. However, I’m going to cheat a little bit this month because there’s four great indie books (including the one you just read about here) I read last year that are SCREAMING to be posted on the blog. Next in line is the “clean” sci-fi adventure The Outlands by Tyler Edwards.

Book Review: A Ghost and His Gold

A while back, I reviewed Roberta Cheadle’s Through the Nethergate, and I found the research behind it very impressive. As well, the plot moved well, and the goals were sensible. I’d been following Cheadle for a while, and soon after I finished Nethergate, she published a post presenting A Ghost and His Gold as an upcoming book. I kept my eye out and purchased it when I could. Cheadle, who lives in South Africa and already proved herself to be a history buff, has written a historical, supernatural fiction with a South African backdrop. I’m pretty hype.

The Book

A Ghost and His Gold
Author: Roberta Eaton Cheadle
2021
TSL Publications Link – can take you to Lulu page if you want to avoid Amazon
Amazon Link

Before anyone starts this review or the book, I wanted to say here that there are some disturbing and violent scenes. They all are necessary to have on screen for plot and character development, and Cheadle does an excellent job framing them as such. It’s really obvious that the scene(s) in question are coming, so they can be skipped if you need to, but I’ll tell you right now: this is one of those books where all the pieces are thematically essential. There is payoff for reading the hard parts.

Non-Spoiler Review

A Ghost and His Gold is an extremely ambitious work, and it’s quite impressive Cheadle was able to fit all of it into this short space. With multiple viewpoints, time settings, and an intensely researched historical backdrop, and deeply entrenched themes, there’s a lot going on. At the same time, Cheadle pulls it off by making an understandable story with compelling character arcs.

Probably the greatest achievement within the book was how the 1900-1904 timeline meshes so well with the 2019 timeline. While it does have the typical “figure out why the ghost is haunting us” sort of storyline to it, the way the two are connected makes it all the more intriguing. Estelle, who I’d consider the main ghost and at least the primary source of problems in the 2019 narrative, ties traits of modern-day Tom to people of the era in which she lived and died. Because of the necessary historical backdrop to Estelle’s demise, and because of Tom’s secret, the way the two timelines come together really works. I will admit that I was a little skeptical of having the 2019 part in the book, but I think it worked out. If you’ve read Through the Nethergate, you’ll probably get the feeling I did that Cheadle used similar mechanisms to mesh past and present as she did in that book.

Probably the most stunning part of this book, though, is setting. While the setting in Nethergate was well done, it didn’t have anywhere near the same feeling as in this book. There’s clear love and intimate personal knowledge here. I can feel the grit of the landscape of South Africa here. How she nonchalantly feels the seasons, like a frozen July and a hot February, isn’t something I think I could easily pull off. There is something magical about the way the land, not just the time, is treated in this book. It’s a very visceral connection to the veld that many of the characters have, even Michelle and Tom in 2019, and even if they don’t really know it. Land and the place our hearts are within it is a silent theme behind a lot of the book, but it’s a driving force. The British Empire wants it, the farmers want it, and Michelle and Tom’s attachment to their house and land brings together the tapestry.

The negative part of this ambitious scope is that, at times, there can be a lot of information dumps. Most of this comes through in descriptions of the war or the concentration camps. While I thought it was really interesting and, like with Cheadle’s earlier book Through the Nethergate, one of my personal favorite parts about her style, it did often interrupt the more character or plot-focused narrative. Though at times the footnotes regarding Boer or South African history can seem a little too easy, other times they’re essential or add a richness that would go unnoticed without them. As a whole, I think Cheadle weaved her way through the story and the subject matter well, but there are instances where I think it could have been smoothed. The book could have easily been twice the size and gotten away with it.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I don’t normally put spoiler reviews for pretty new indie books, but I think I will do so here, just a little bit.

Something I thought was interesting was how Estelle saw the world and how it treated her. It was very “teen”, even if very abused and dark. Estelle was brutally raped, and the way her (BIG OL SPOILER) stepmother Marta treated her was horrifying. She grew very bitter about it, but she did so in a way that was simultaneously inward and outwardly focused. How this combination of terrible abuse and festering hatred turned her into a haunting spirit felt so different from other ghosts I’ve read about or watched on TV. The sadness in her vengeance for her miseries and untimely death was quite palpable.

That being said, I think Estelle’s story could have been expanded. The period of time where she stays with Oom Willem isn’t very detailed, and yet it seems like it could have lasted a much longer time. Still, explaining Estelle’s relationship with Marta took quite a long time, and I think that made her my favorite character in this book.

Estelle’s story also pounded home the feminist themes of the book, and I greatly appreciate that. Though Estelle’s salvation came through forgiveness, the initial criminal is clear, and the need for kindness, equality, and more concern for human rights is apparent. There’s other themes that are important, but I’ve pointed out the ones I find most important in this review.

Join Me Tomorrow Night!

We’re also having a “Book Signing” party on January 4th from 8 to 11 pm EST for the new release Collective Fantasy! If you’re in the Salt Lake area, the physical party is going to be at Under the Umbrella bookstore, and there’s a virtual Zoom link (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9630443174) for those who (like myself) are in other places. I’ll try to be on during the early parts, but no promises past 9:30 eastern, given my bedtime.

What I’m Reading Next:

This year, I’m not doing reading lists; instead, I’m going to be publishing posts as I read. However, I’m going to cheat a little bit this month because there’s four great indie books (including the one you just read about here) I read last year that are SCREAMING to be posted on the blog. Next in line is the indie chapbook Bottled Memories by David Ritter.

Book Review: Collective Darkness

One of my stories recently got accepted into Collective Fantasy, which will be published by the awesome Collective Tales Publishing. As soon as I got the approval, the publishers swept me off my feet with kindness and just amazing community. I saw they had a previous book come out, Collective Darkness, and that it performed REALLY well on Amazon.

Here’s what I found…

The Book

Collective Darkness
Editor: Elizabeth Suggs
2020
Amazon Link for Kindle (though you need to go through their site for a print copy!)

This is a book of dark, creepy shorts. There are all sorts of horror inside, but little of it should really trigger people. As it says in the “disclaimer”, there is some descriptive violence, but honestly I didn’t think it was very extreme.

On With The Review

This is the first multi-author compilation I’ve read in which every story was at least 3 stars (and that 3-star was, without a doubt, not because of low quality – it was just because of my own weird tastes). Most of the stories were 4 or 5 stars. I’ve never given a multi-author compilation above 3 stars total before.

Part of what made this compilation so good was the consistently high quality of editing. I didn’t find any mistakes in the work, which is something I tend to find in at least one author’s story in these compilations. I bet it’s hard to get every story from multiple authors to feel like they’re all done well and edited to their best!

Another thing that made the compilation so good was the darkness that linked them. Though the theme was very vague, the creepiness factor remained the same for all the stories. Though they had disparate settings, characters, and even sometimes genre, the collection went together very well. The order in which the stories were presented was also perfect; it went together like an album of music.

When I review a compilation, I like to leave a review of 3 stories: my favorite, one that stood out, and my least favorite. This time, I’m proud to say, I even liked the least favorite!

The Favorite: Padua’s Eyes

HOLY MOLY. This story turned vampire stories on their head. Padua was a vampiric horse that helped her human rider seek vengeance for turning her father. Not only was the story an exciting bit of fantasy, but the journey that Padua and her rider Cordelia make is dark and filled with difficult decisions. I also loved the author’s choice of a German-inspired setting. Even though it was simple, the small hints and flicks of German inspired names, dress, and activity gave it just that little kick that made this story my favorite.

The Standout: Red Flag

This was a Southern Gothic tale, and I loved it. There were all kinds of little niceties about how being quiet and maintaining honor was important, even if it was never explicitly stated. Though I think some of the Southernness was a bit heavy-handed, the short as a whole made good use of the setting. The first line of the story, “Shane told me he’s going to kill somebody,” leads to a paranoid, macabre set of twists and turns. By the ending I knew what was going on and what needed to happen, but I couldn’t look away because it was so intense.

This was one of the stories in which violence occurs, but unless you’re really, truly bothered by it, the paranoia and creepiness is absolutely worth it.

Least Favorite: Crimson Snow

Honestly, this story wasn’t bad. There was mystery, a sense of dread instilled by the chilly setting, and a plot that had a beginning, middle, and end. It fit the book well. Even so, I guess it was my least favorite because the story blended reality and vision in a way that my brain, which was seeking easily digestible material at the time, decided it didn’t want to try so hard. Eventually some monsters show up, and I thought it was ok but wasn’t the more sociopolitical direction I’d thought the story was heading.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

It’s a new month! Stay tuned!

Book Review: Walking Into Trouble

Geoff LePard is a popular blogger ’round these parts, and some bloggers have been urging me to read his works for a while. So, when I received a review request from him through my Review Request Page, I knew I had to read it!

That being said, it’s not my usual genre, so hold onto your butts.

The Book

Walking Into Trouble
Author: Geoff LePard
2020
Amazon Link

As a note for people who are thinking about this book: there are a lot of intense sexual implications, innuendo, and scenes. The book is not erotica, but sex takes a front seat of importance in the story. I’d honestly classify this as a “sex mystery,” as the story is essentially about trying to solve problems surrounding who slept with who and when. Those who are triggered by intensely sexual content may want to be aware before reading the book (or, honestly, before reading my review).

Non-Spoiler Review

Walking Into Trouble is in a genre I’m not quite sure I’ve read before. It’s in this liminal space between mystery, soap, and contemporary. It has a very unique structure built around the central backbone of “three men on a long set of walks.” There’s a lot of timeline skipping and many different narrators, but LePard adds each piece of the puzzle in a sensible, understandable way. It’s hard to have a non- or semi-linear plot work out, and he pulled it off here. Another feat was how well he incorporated multiple narrators with this non-traditional plot structure.

The story also leaves you hanging while you wait for the next clue. It gives you red herrings, it leads down misbegotten paths and into deep truths, and it shoves you into desperate situations along with the characters. The problems faced by Chris, Marty, and Peter were very intense, and the combinations of their secret worries threatens to tear their friendship apart throughout the whole book. This constant drive kept the book engaging and held the tension through to the end.

One of the characters I enjoyed reading about the most was Felicity. She wasn’t a main character, but the role she played was essential to spreading just the right amount of rumors without solving anything. Her motivations were always a little cloudy (at least until the end) that you couldn’t quite trust her gossip. I thought she was well done.

Something that was difficult was how sleazy all of the characters (main or otherwise) were. I swear, if one of them contracted an STD, probably all of them would have caught it immediately. I couldn’t really identify with any of the three main characters or Diane because of how much sleeping around was done. All the sleeping around was necessary for the plot to work out (“who the baby daddy” was of course one of the main questions), though, so it made sense as I read. It was still probably the most difficult part of the book for me, and ultimately I think I’m not a big fan of the genre.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I don’t really do spoilers reviews for indie books, so I’m going to complain/whine/chat about something irrelevant.

What kind of walking trail puts you at a different city/town at the end of each day? A trail on which you can just head to a hotel after a day’s walk? I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’ve never hiked/backpacked/walked on a trail that worked that way in even the remotest fashion. Is that type of trail an English thing? Or am I just crazy and haven’t found one of those trails in America before?

Or, do they do lots of switcheroos with cars at either end of the day’s hike? However the methodology, the fact that the three main characters would walk for the day and then have *access to a hotel every night* blew my fricking mind. No eating spilled spaghetti off a rock? No bear bags or water purification tablets? What kind of walk was this!?!

Anyway, rant over.

Next week:

It’s time for Secrets of Plants in the Environment, my first non-fiction indie book read!

Book Review: We All Die In the End

Elizabeth Merry is a prolific blogger who writes fantastic stuff. Her prose is always delicious, and she’s so nice! And, despite that kind exterior, she offers this book of dark tales set in a seaside town. I was excited to read this and see what she had in store.

Many of these stories had been elsewhere showcased in other anthologies, so it’s also possible you’ve seen one before, but never packaged so neatly like this.

The Book

We All Die In the End: Scenes From a Small Town
Author: Elizabeth Merry
2020
Amazon Link

This is a book of 19 shorts focused on various characters that live in the same seaside, Irish town. As a warning, some stories in the book are incredibly dark and many either contain or hint at emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. There are explicitly sexual things in the book, though not at great detail for each scene in which they appear. Because the stories are all shorts, however, any content that may be unacceptable to a reader can easily be skipped and other stories enjoyed.

On With The Review

Without a doubt, this collection of short stories was the most well-curated of any I’ve seen. Not only did the stories fit together well thematically, and not only did they have the same general setting, but they wove into each other by mentioning various characters that showed up later. For instance, the first story is about Arthur, but he talks about Jennifer and her dogs. Jennifer shows up in the next story, and they introduce other characters. Carmel works at the grocer’s, and Julia and Sadie down at the pub are mentioned repeatedly.

It. Just. Works.

Most of the stories make you think, and many contain complex social relationships that only reveal themselves in their fullness at the end. That being said, I sure wouldn’t want to live in this town – too many bad guys and terrible people! There weren’t many characters I could really get behind and root for, as many of them were morally gray or completely decrepit. Even so, they were all interesting, and Merry writes very well.

When I review collections of shorts, I also like to select a few stories to talk about in more detail.

The Favorite: Myrtle

I LOVED the Myrtle scene. Because the story was told with a narrator positioned just behind Myrtle’s shoulder and with Myrtle’s personality in mind, I couldn’t get a true physical description in my mind. That being said, when the little kid was afraid of her at the grocer’s, I immediately went to “completely insane cat lady” in my head. I was not disappointed. It went from crazy to VERY CRAZY in the span of no time, and Myrtle was just the best. I loved her, she was terrible, it went great.

Meow.

The Standout: Angela

This was probably the most different from all the other stories. Though it took place in the same town, it felt somewhat cloistered away from the rest of them because of its focus on the nunnery and school. How it turned out was completely unexpected, and it’ll probably be the last story that goes fuzzy in my head.

Least Favorite: Eugene Curran

This one was the very last story in the book, and to be honest, I had to stave off writing the review for a few days because I knew it would linger in my mind and spoil what was otherwise a great collection. This one was the most horrifying and abusive, and I was never really sure what the storyline was except for being about Eugene’s abusiveness and baseless paranoia. It did, in a way, come full circle to the paranoia seen in the first story, but it enveloped the lives of others who were terrified and prevented from escaping domestic abuse. While abuse was present in other stories, this was the only one so deeply dark that I couldn’t get my interest up.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

It’s a new month! Stay tuned!

Book Review: His Name Was Zach

Last year, I reviewed the second book in this series – Her Name Was Abby – and was absolutely blown away. Because the third book (out now, but not at the time) was coming, I decided to back up a hot second and read the first book in the series: His Name Was Zach.

The Book

His Name Was Zach
Author: Peter Martuneac
2019
Amazon Link (and hey, if you’re reading this in the couple days after the review dropped, book’s FREE right now!)

I really enjoyed the second book in the series last year, and I will say you can easily read that second book without reading the first. I like it when books give you that option, so feel free to look at that review and consider it if this one doesn’t look like you.

Like with Her Name Was Abby, I wanted to say here that some rather intense and somewhat violent situations occur within the book. This book also has more sexual themes and violence, and the amount of information and events that could be upsetting are more numerous in this book. They are, indeed, well done, and it’s very clear who the good guys are, but you might want to know these things are coming if you’re considering the read.

Non-Spoiler Review

Super action-packed, fast-paced, and contains ups and downs in tension that keep the story interesting throughout. The chapters and mini-storylines are somewhat episodic, but they build to a “season finale” at the end of the book that’s worth sticking around for.

At first, I was a little worried about how useless Abby seemed to be, but there was a huge turning point early in the book where she made the decision to “grow up”. Martuneac, who is great at metaphor and symbolism, excellently coupled this change with hints and foreshadowing with what was to come. Even though Abby shared a smaller portion of the narrator’s attention with Zach, paying attention to her gives a better sense of what’s coming.

Speaking of Martuneac’s inherent artfulness in writing, he continues an amazing spree of American history allusions. I don’t think it was as fully developed in this volume as in the second book, but it’s still got this post-reconstruction, going-out-west sort of feel. It’s filled with the ideas of individualism, struggle against the wild (the zombie-infested landscape is known as The Wild), and dealing with those people who are fleeing civilization in order to fulfill their own sick ideas of pleasure.

For better or worse, the villains were truly villainous. It doesn’t take a long time to meet Henry, so I think it’s not a spoiler to say that guy was REALLY terrible. You’ll hate him, and you’ll love to hate him. Genuinely terrible person.

Perhaps it’s because I read the second book first, but I’m a terrible person and will compare it a little bit to Her Name was Abby. This book was genuinely enjoyable, but I must admit Abby was better composed, written, and complex. Like I said above, Henry was really, really bad, and he posed a good villain because you just wanted him to die. His presence and activities in that early piece of the book did serve to better define main characters Zach and Abby, but he was a bit on the “moustache twirling evil” side. Later villains introduced in different “episodes” within the book were a bit more complex (Vicky, the Irishman, to some extent Mayor Calvin), but they didn’t have the political and emotional complexity of the villains in book 2.

Ultimately, part of what this book does is prepare you for the end. It’s a building experience, and then that ending is like “OMG.” You kind of know it’s coming since Martuneac uses foreshadowing like an absolute boss, but it still hits like a truck.

Anyway, long story short, these human-focused, post zombie-apocalypse books are really good. Zach has a few more awkward tell-instead-of-show moments, but as a whole I would recommend it, especially so you can enjoy book 2 to its fullest.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

Spellbound, an anthology put together by David Alatorre and including a story by Robbie Cheadle, comes to the blog next week! Stay tuned!

Book Review: Liars and Thieves

I have reviewed three D. Wallace Peach books in the past (See reviews for The Melding of Aeris, Soul Swallowers, and Legacy of Souls). She’s written reliably good works, and I am excited to start a new series.

The Book

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Liars and Theives
Author: D. Wallace Peach
2020
Amazon Link

I was interested in this book because one of the main characters is a goblin. That’s not an ordinary trope or common thing, and unusual characters or ideas always attract me. A bit about the blurb: it seems like the book will mostly be about the Lord of Chaos, but at least this installation in the Unraveling the Veil series is about three mortals and not so much of the Lord of Chaos.

Non-Spoiler Review

Liars and Thieves was, as a whole, an enjoyable book. The world was complex and entertained a full suite of political situations, alliances, and treaties. The three major races – elves, goblins, and changelings – all work around a treaty that keeps them at peace… for the moment. Each race had political jurisdiction in a different environment, as well; it’s so often you get fantasy or sci-fi worlds that are homogenous and either feel like “everything is England” or “everything is Norway” or “everything is the Sahara”. The wide variety of weather, climate, and vegetation added a richness to the setting.

The inciting incidence – a mine collapses, and everyone inside mysteriously disappears – causes the elves to suspect the goblins of foul play. Similar events over large portions of the world shared by these races occur, and racist opinions on the cause abound. The palpable tension over something to which blame couldn’t easily be attributed was great. The political fragility of the whole situation made me feel like it was a 3-way Cold War, rife with spies, weapons of mass destruction, and utter terror of the populace.

Out of the three main characters – Alue the elf, Talin the changeling, and Naj the goblin (well, half-goblin half-elf, but it seems there’s some one drop rules in this world regarding goblins) – Talin was my favorite. Then again, I’m a big fan of people hiding secrets about their true identities. I loved Talin’s parts as a spy, and I liked his shifting loyalties and thoughts. Naj reminded me a lot of Spock from Star Trek. The goblins were overwhelmingly logic-oriented, and Naj as a half-goblin had to struggle with greater emotional imbalance.

(Spoiler for like the first 3 chapters or something coming up). Alue? I liked her less than the other two. She is an officer in the elfin army and was initially sent to look over and protect a mining operation near the borderlands. After the mysterious earthquake, she decides to blame Naj and chase him. As soon as I read about this decision, I thought, “That’s dumb. She should have sent someone else.” And, sure enough, it was a dumb move. Foreseeing that made me feel smart, but Alue continues making poor decisions, which led me to wonder why she was in the army at all. She often relies on others to rescue her and fails to move forward. While I’m interested in her relationships with Naj and Talin, I wasn’t really able to get into Alue for her own sake.

Lastly, the book did feel like an intro to the rest of the books. There were solutions to the main problem of distrust between the main characters and how to bind them together, but it seemed the main point of the book was to get the three together and introduce the main problem of the series. As such, it didn’t have as powerful plots as Soul Swallowers or The Melding of Aeris, also by Peach. I still think it was fantastic, especially for an indie book, but so far I like the other two better.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

This book is still very new, so I’m not going to spoil much. However, I will spoil just a bit concerning what I want to keep an eye out in the coming book and why:

Talin was sent as a changeling spy in the elfin empire. He latched onto Alue because of her family, political, and military connections. Disguising himself as a weasel familiar, he lived closely with her and was very involved in her life. Then, once he must reveal his identity, their relationship must change immediately. She knows he’s humanoid, but he’s seen her naked etc. while pretending to be an animal. She’s got a steady relationship, and Talin is still smitten with his queen. I kind of want to know where that is all going!

Next week:

Last year I read Peter Martuneac’s Her Name was Abby. This time I’m actually reading the first book in the series, His Name Was Zach. Let’s see if I like it as much!

Book Review: 1NG4

This was me taking a chance on a book gotten on a Free Book weekend. The book was short enough, though, that I wanted to go ahead and share it with y’all rather than hold back!

The Book

ING4
Author: Berthold Gambrel
2019
Amazon Link

I found Berthold Gambrel’s website through Peter Martenuac’s website. He writes extremely thoughtful reviews (including one of my own free book, American Chimera, which simultaneously makes me feel nervous and very proud), and I thought someone with such detailed thoughts and good writing skills would write a good story.

Non-Spoiler Review

1NG4 was an intriguing story (was it a short? I think it was more of a novella, maybe novelette) with a great setting. While people think that science occurs in its own vacuum, I very much appreciated the way money, politics, and science overlapped in this near-future sci fi short.

Gambrel imagines a unique dystopia in which water has swelled over the shores and the oceans are bigger. There’s new supernational governments (and thus funding sources), and there’s lots of mystery. I’m also very impressed at how quickly he could build an entire world in such a short space.

Also impressive was how he was able to include a full plot alongside the worldbuilding within the space. He was able to feed information smoothly between all the other pieces of information. Before the titular character 1NG4 shows up, we meet a couple of scientists investigating a mysterious object that can generate nearly infinite energy. They’re not told where it’s from, what it’s about, or what they’re really supposed to understand – but they’re doing it, because it’s a job. Like real scientists would.

Twists about what 1NG4 really is, what’s going on, and the alignments of the professors kept the story moving. If you’re looking for a short sci-fi in an interesting and political world, this one is a good option for you.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I don’t like giving too many spoilers of indie books, but this one’s two years old now so I’m going to go straight to the part I care about spoiling: messy endings.

Often, I don’t like messy endings. Binti: The Night Masquerade had a horrible messy ending. 1NG4, however, had a messy ending that made sense. Some things just remain a mystery, but Gunnar and Jenny’s story really does wrap up. He leaves room for more to occur within his world, but he essentially finishes. The messy ending, wherein things like 1NG4’s true origins and some information about the energy machine are not explained, still works out well.

If Gambrel chose to write another entry in the series, I’d probably go for it!

Coming Up Soon:

This book was a surprise entry – I’ll continue with D. Wallace Peach’s Liar’s and Thieves on Monday!