Book Review: Our Dried Voices

Greg Hickey posted his book in my handy-dandy review request form on my book review request page! My rules for answering a review request are there, if you want to risk it.

The Book

read 2021 our dried voices hickeyOur Dried Voices
Author: Greg Hickey
2017
Amazon Link

Ultimately, I was going to read this book because I was requested to do so and it was in a genre I like. When this book came across my lap, at least, I was in a place where I wasn’t getting enough requests to really put me off the trail. That being said, it’s a dystopian future sci-fi, and I’m ok with that.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book is billed as inspired by classic sci-fi like Wells’s The Time Machine or Huxley’s Brave New World. I absolutely agree that if you like The Time Machine, this book is probably up your alley. Our Dried Voices takes a similar idea from The Time Machine – i.e. that humanity will collectively devolve into helpless, mindless creatures kept safe by old humanity’s successes – but there’s plenty of new, different ideas that you won’t be bored.

If you’re looking for a more modern comparison, I’d like to point you to Liu’s Three Body Problem. Hickey’s Voices is similar to Three Body in that it’s an extensively explored setting that builds with slow exactitude to its final reveal. Liu’s book is probably 4 times the size of Voices, but there’s a lot of explanatory shpiels that build on each other. It’s got that classic sci-fi “boring” to it that I and many fans of the old stuff enjoy. At times it did get excessively dry, but the book was short enough that it didn’t become too tedious.

Another good point in Voices’ favor is the high-quality editing. Though at times the book did fall into purple prose, the sentence structure, spelling, and logical flow of the book was good. I hate that this is something I have to grade in indie books, but I am happy to say that this one did it right!

The reasons this isn’t five stars, though…

This book, like Brave New World, is what I would call “artsy fartsy”. It has a semi-experimental structure wherein the characters say very little. Without much dialogue, it was hard for me to really get into Sam or Penny as fast as I wanted to. I could see what kind of feeling (a sort of “awakening” where the mains go from ignorant to curious) this sort of narration achieved, but it made it somewhat difficult for me to get into the book. They were inoffensive, perfectly fine characters, though. Penny was never an object, and by the time I figured them out, her role was well defined and well done.

The mystery elements were also not quite up my alley. Some of the mystery was easy enough that I questioned what the main character was thinking, some of it was a stretch even after it was explained, and some of it didn’t make sense how the character put together the clues.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The plot was relatively simple, and most of it could be guessed, but that’s not something you really have a problem with in sci-fi. It did build logically, and for that I commend it.

However, I must say that the bulk of the chapters were similar to one-off MacGuyver problems. Some of them – like fixing a bridge – were somewhat interesting, but others – like the “food box” where they collected the humans’ food to fairly redistribute it – was frustrating. Other problems didn’t make so much sense, but they tended to contribute to the overall plot.

As I said in the non-spoilers review, there was a mystery element. In the course of solving problems, the main character Samuel came across messages from a mysterious, possibly villainous, personages. While it was a clever idea, I thought these messages weren’t incorporated very well. They seemed a bit of a nonsense puzzle on top of all the other survival puzzles.

Anyway, the point is if you like classic sci-fi, this might be a pick for you.

Next week:

It’s time for the last of my indie sci-fi reviews – Dust & Lightning!

Book Review: Steel Reign – Flight of the Starship Concord

Once upon a time in 2020, I made the fateful step of deciding to post a “I will buy and review a book or two from the selection y’all pitch at me” on Twitter. Along with A Choice for Essence, I chose this book.

The Book

Steel Reign flight of the starship concord read 2020Steel Reign: The Flight of the Starship Concord
Author: Braxton A. Cosby
Publication Year: 2020
Amazon Link

One big reason I chose this book is the genre: sci-fi seems to be a bit less common than fantasy among indie books. Beyond that, the blurb on Amazon hints to epic space adventure in a wide world – it seems up my alley at first glance!

Non-Spoiler Review

I’m quite torn about this book. As an admission, the genre was a parody of sci-fi action, not a serious take. I didn’t expect that from the blurb or most reviews, and I probably wouldn’t have started it if I’d known. So, that caveat out of the way let’s start with the things I liked.

It did pull through with the basic promise of action adventure. Reign – or Cassius, at times – was a hardcore spy who could pull off crazy stunts if he paid for it in joint pain later. His drive was a little difficult to drill down to, but his objective was clear. If you like action comedy like Austin Powers or Tropic Thunder, this is in your wheelhouse.

The grammar/basic structure was (aside from the experimental, weird numbers that were explained in the preface) decent. Some typos, word repetition, and sentence structure issues were present but were not more jarring than the weird decision regarding numbers (“no one” was “no 1”). The thing I liked best was the descriptions of the future tech and how it worked in-universe. Some of his chemistry and processing knowledge were wonky, but those subjects I’m less expert in seemed fine. The implants, especially, interested me because they weren’t better than natural – just different.

All the elements of a plot were there. The first chapter was very confusing, but it didn’t take long after to get set up and set off on the mission. The steps to the end were clear, and I liked knowing what we were supposed to root for.

But… man… the comedy. It was exactly the kind of comedy I just don’t get, because I had that feeling it should make me laugh. It was so intensely over the top that it had to be intended as funny, but I have a hard time with absurdist or exaggerating humor.

The other primary issue I had with the humor leaked into issues of characters. The intense use of male gaze (wherein the ladies were always described “boobs first”) and sexual jokes were tiresome to me. I suspect the first person narrator’s obsession with judging and gauging women solely by looks – even though the character claims he doesn’t – was meant as parody, but I honestly couldn’t be sure.

Part of what makes me suspicious that the male gaze and objectification were unintended was the poor representation of women. Every single woman was described as having squeezable or large tits, judged for their sexual potential (even the main’s sister!), and never really had a major part in the plot except as love objects or damsels. There was nothing to prove the narrator was delusional or wrong – so the parody angle might not even be good enough to make up for the poorly built female characters. The book passed neither Bechdel nor Mako Mori tests.

So, in the end, I liked the basic ideas of the book, but it had some major issues (that, admittedly, may be 100% in my head). Because of this, I decided that bad and good weighed each other out.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The plot was fairly straightforward, which I liked. You knew they had to steal the Concord in order to rescue Reign’s sister, Olia, from slavery. You knew they had to sneak into the Eclipse to find her. The action sequences made sense, and in that manner the book was fine.

I saw the twist – that Giff, the nerdy handler, had betrayed Reign – from pretty much Giff’s appearance in chapter two. He offered “too good to be true” for pretty cheap, so I expected it. However, that also meant the betrayal was set up, so I was fine with the twist. I’d much rather expect a twist than read a twist that comes out of nowhere.

The ending may have set up for additional entries in the series, but it could equally end where it is. Reign got the girl, saved his sister, and gained once and for all the loyalties of his crew (Giff and Stink).

Next week:

Stick around for Our Dried Souls, a sci fi indie book!

Book Review: Her Name Was Abby

Peter Martenuac posted his book in my handy-dandy review request form on my book review request page! My rules for answering a review request are there, if you want to risk it.

The Book

Her Name was Abby
Author: Peter Martuneac
2020
Amazon Link

I’ll admit I like zombies. I’ll admit I’m always looking for good action. And I’ll be damned if I pass up an indie book that seems to promise both.

Usually I reserve this section for “why I read the book” and an intro, but I wanted to say here that some rather intense and somewhat violent situations occur within the book. They are, indeed, well done, but you might want to know that if you’re considering the read.

Also, I apologize that I’m no longer cursing in my reviews, but Amazon keeps taking them down from their site when I do that.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book was right up my alley. Written with intense historical context, rich backdrop, and enough introduction that I didn’t feel like I required the first book, I just gobbled this up. Make it through the first part, and you’ll be in a whirlwind of emotion that just doesn’t stop. Read this with an eye for historical metaphors, and you’ll be rewarded immensely.

Let’s go with the simple first: the tension is great. Main character Abby struggles in the beginning to find her way through the wilds. Though the book’s main plot and intensity picks up a lot in Part II, the beginning fits very thematically and adds to the sense of horror that Abby must pull herself through. Once Part II starts, Abby meets compelling characters like Hector and Hiamovi. As members of a resistance faction against the emergency government, they’re idealists who you’ve just got to like. Throw Derrick, a good-looking member of the enemy, into the mix, and you’ve got sexual tension that I didn’t expect from an action book. I kid you not, the sexual and romantic tension was just so good. (More about that in the spoilers section). There’s no safety for any character in this book. I won’t spoil who lives or dies, but I will say that Martuneac obviously killed off the main character in Book 1, His Name Was Zach. Be afraid for your favorites!

Martuneac can write a really good fight scene. It might be introduced with a deep-dive into some war-based minutia, but the movement isn’t too punch-by-punch to withstand nor is it too sparse. Though some of the minutia – such as talking about gear – seems a bit dull, it served two purposes for me. One, it did help me predict tactics and understand the battlefield. Two: metaphors.

THIS BOOK WAS CHOCK FULL OF ALLUSIONS TO AMERICAN HISTORY. The president was Cyrus Arthur, for goodness’ sake. When I read about his corruption, his wife’s mysterious death, vice-presidency-to-presidency, and his VERY NAME, I instantly thought “Chester A. Arthur.” The book also referenced Ulysses S. Grant. It’s the Guilded Age, you guys. There was a Moby-Dick like reverence and study of tools, an apocalyptic event that forced movement to the west (zombies in the book, Civil War in real life), Indian Wars (I’M NOT KIDDING), and treatises on inequality that reminded me of 19th century American history.

The book’s metaphorical reconstruction, complete with martial law and obligatory lawlessness following the apocalypse, mirrors a Post-Civil War landscape. There’s a sort of idea that the “Lincoln” of the story, the president before Arthur, was killed before his time and that everything was worse for it. There’s rampant corruption in the upper eschelons. If you read this with an eye for these things, it adds so much flavor to what you’re consuming.

But there’s also a major, major difference between what happened in history and what happened in this book: Abby. While putting a modern world through an explosion and comparing our current situation to the past, Martuneac also posited that our future doesn’t need to mirror that which has already happened. The moral that one person could make a difference really did it for me. Together with the action, that made this book one of the best indie books I’ve read this year.

I’ll admit that some of the detailed description of weapons systems, equipment, and “how-to” battle could get a bit tedious, especially at the beginning where there wasn’t as much character tension. The beginning could have been shortened or integrated better from a plot standpoint, but it did serve the purpose of making a reader unfamiliar with Book 1 catch up really quick, and it added to the historical themes. The ending worked very well and wrapped up all plotlines, but there were a few things I would have enjoyed seeing instead.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Look, this book came out in 2020, so how dare I spoil much?

All I’m going to talk about here is that little love triangle. If you want no spoilers, don’t read further. This is a major part of the book that adds tension.

What makes the love triangle in this book so compelling is that both love interests, Hiamovi the rebel and Derrick the president’s son, are great. You have to like them both because they’re honest, earnest, and hardworking. You understand why Abby is two-timing, and you feel for her, and you just can’t choose how to finish out this storyline.

I think what Martuneac chose was probably one of the best options out there, but by the time I got to that resolution I severely wanted a threesome. Gosh darn it, both those boys were good, and I’d have been fine if they’d turned out bi or ok with sharing. They seemed like people who could have been friends, and their jealousy over Abby was just not going to let it happen.

But oh! Oh, it would have been a great solution. In my little, bleeding heart, anyway. It’d probably screw up book three, though.

Next week:

NOVEMBER (*Parks and Rec song where Andy sings “November” to April plays in the background*). Stay tuned for some dank new reviews!

Book Review: The Spinner’s Child

Those of you active in the Writing WordPress circle have probably seen the announcements about Crispina Kemp’s quintet of books. The Spinner’s Game quintet begins with The Spinner’s Child and I bring you now (at long last) my review of this first book in the series.

The Book

The Spinner's Child Spinner's game read 2020

The Spinner’s Child
Author: Crispina Kemp
2020
Amazon Link

I pre-ordered The Spinner’s Child because I’d enjoyed Crispina’s build-up posts throughout the phases of editing and getting the book all polished. This book has been highly anticipated on blog world for quite some time now, and I’m thrilled to finally be posting this review on my blog.

Also, I was convinced I wanted to read this book when I found out the main character’s name was Kerrid: what a fantastic fantasy name!

Non-Spoiler Review

Just so it’s out of the way: 100%, definitely worth the read. There aren’t many books set in an ancient world, and I’ve never read a created universe with such a detailed set of religious, spiritual, and cultural nuances. The small bits of world info are delivered at such a pace that it never feels bloated, and the information gained can allow the reader to make their own decisions.

That’s what made the twist so delightful – I could see it looking back, once it was revealed, but I didn’t see it coming. Any book that can pull off such a twist is going to get a 5/5 rating from me.

Also, despite being the first in a 5-book series published at once, this book does wrap up a significant plot element and gives a nice, satisfying ending. It doesn’t leave you hanging, doesn’t make you mad for it being unfinished. There are unfinished elements that need tying up, but they feel like part of a larger story that could not have been finished within just this one book.

Now, for some minimal critiques: this book does have a rather gloomy outlook, and the main character suffers from a rare form of loneliness throughout. Literally everyone hates her (for reasons explained, so don’t worry about that), and it’s so pervasive that at times I found it hard to believe. The logic of when/why the clan(s) would kick her out didn’t always feel right to me. Getting past the twist helped significantly, but for a good portion of the book, it felt like there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

As this book is pretty new, I’m not going to have a big spoilers section. I don’t feel right giving too much away about this book.

However, because the twist showed up about 60% of the way through, I will say things that lead up to that point.

Kerrid’s adventures with Bargli and Sarat were very calming, and I felt like they should have been able to help Kerrid or fight for her more. Kemp did weave in enough honor into the societies to make it reasonable that Kerrid had to leave for Dvar-Usas, but the constant downward trend of Kerrid’s life was very sad. A lot of the feminist messages about the fate of Kerrid depended on her inability to make her own decisions, and this did frustrate me a lot. However, the tone of the book was well-done, and the good messages behind it were clear.

There was a character named Paddlo who I’m sure will show up again later – he’s too terrible not to! I really disliked Paddlo as a person, and I sincerely hope he one day gets his wish to die.

Next week:

I’ll be reading Her Name was Abby, a book I got a review request for! It’s the last indie book of the year for me, too, so make sure to stick around for it!

Book Review: Soul’s Choice

I’ve been on Twitter for a while, and an enterprising woman from Canada caught my eye early on. Funny, nice, and infinitely helpful, Kerri Davidson wrote a words-only novel following three volumes of graphic novels. She doesn’t go through Amazon, either, which was interesting, and also what probably kept me from downloading earlier.

But, seeing as my computer and Kindle are still operable, I can claim I went through her site with zero issues. So, without further adieu…

The Book

52265195._sx318_sy475_Soul’s Choice
Author: Kerri Davidson
2019
Purchase Link

Quick warning before you start: this book can be emotionally intense. If you aren’t in a good place mentally and/or emotionally, you might want to put this off. Kerri is pretty available on twitter, so I’m sure you can get a list of trigger warnings if you want.

I was a little shook, myself.

Non-Spoiler Review

Holy mother of God (or of atheism, if that’s your thing) – this book was an absolute whirlwind. Roller coaster. Emotional disastrophe.

And I mean that in a good way.

From the very beginning, Davidson’s book grips you with a family situation that is difficult to watch. With her mother, Amelia, dead and watching from “heaven”, Amy Clarke must find her own path through the world. Her dad, Jason, is a cop who’s trying his best to make it through. But with Amelia’s death, the two are facing down monumental levels of depression, lack of self-confidence, and other health issues.

The side characters in this book are phenomenal. People like Stacey, who only shows up intermittently as a foil, are still so vivid even without much description. The way everything leads down its path to the end just amazed me.

Small spoiler, though: the end was a cliffhanger, but it was actually something I found not-too-bad. I’m not a fan of cliffhanger endings, but the book did wrap up several plot lines and had left off at a point where it was almost complete. The cliffhanger was more one of those little additions to the end where you’re like “Oh snap! There’s got to be another book after this.” So take that into consideration.

But, like I said in the intro, this book is not for the faint of heart. I didn’t quite realize that going in, and not realizing how intense it was is probably my biggest complaint. Perhaps it’s just because I expected something different because Davidson had previously published humorous graphic novels, but I should have known.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Oh man. This is a big spoiler, so really hold onto your butts:

This is a bad ending.

Not for the reader – for the characters.

The book is truly a tragedy on the order of Death of a Salesman or some such thing. Just when you think things may be looking up, just when someone picks Amy Clarke up from the depths and it seems things will be ok, they get so, so much worse.

For most of the book, I couldn’t relate with the characters on an experience level. I was never rich growing up, never had rich grandparents, and have very long-lived relatives. At the same time, I’m not used to making such terrible decisions as the characters in this book did. I am familiar, however, with the crippling levels of self-compassion, and I can’t help but feel for Amy as she struggles through things like body image issues and (big spoiler) her dad’s death.

Don’t expect any uppers in this book to last. If you’re like me, you’ll be eagerly awaiting book 2 just to see if these characters get a break.

Next week:

I’ll be reading Crispina Kemp’s The Spinner’s Child!

 

Book Review: The Gate

This book is described as an alien science fiction in which one of those “Ancient Aliens” type people turn out to be right. It promises investigations of ruins, professor stuff, relationship troubles, and more.

The Book

45946171

The Gate: An Invasion Universe Novel
Book 1 of the Astral Conspiracy Series
Author: D.L. Cross
2019
Amazon Link

I saw this book advertised in one of those twitter threads where a person will say, “I’ve got some money to blow on books now! Tell me what to read!” and a buttload of people respond. I perused one list in which this book was part, and I thought it looked like mad fun.

Also, interestingly, I definitely bought this on Kindle on December 9, 2019, but I can no longer find a Kindle or electronic version available. I had no idea how to find an e-book until Robbie Cheadle pointed out that D.L. Cross was a pseudonym for Staci Troilo – and lo and behold! We have a universal book link now! So enjoy, and thanks to Robbie.

Non-Spoiler Review

The premise of the book is as advertised: it’s like the Ancient Aliens TV show meets Stargate. There’s a lot of cool ideas floating around in there, and there’s a lot of pseudoscience and historical research going into it. I didn’t look up everything, but a lot of the stuff had enough “truthiness” to it that I didn’t think it mattered. For example, I didn’t need to find out for myself whether or not there really was a giant snake statue/mound in Ohio – the author’s tone was authoritative enough that I just went ahead and believed it was true in their universe, might even be in our own!

(Mild spoiler?) The captured alien was SO COOL. I love it when you have stories including Cold War sci-fi, and this was chock full of it. There was also an interesting twist about the alien at the end. (End maybe spoiler)

From a premise and idea standpoint, there was a lot to like, and I think it could have been great.

I found 3 major plots – the Tasha/Tomas plot, the Landon plot, and the Nadia/Dev plots – and just couldn’t get into the most important one. My favorite was the Tasha/Tomas plot, because they were often philosophical, political, and emotionally vivid with their interpretation of events. However, the Landon plot was the keystone and centered around the main character, Landon. Landon was a massive coward, and I enjoyed seeing a book focus on a coward (since it’s not common). This plot provided the most background information, and it had a lot of movement. However, it wasn’t my favorite of the plots because the protagonist was not terribly active (which you’ll know I’m not a fan of from my review of Clara). The Landon plot was largely driven by bad guys with unclear motivation (the motivations are probably revealed in a later installment).

Character, however, did make a big difference. The male characters were a little more developed, especially Father Tomas and Landon Thorne. Landon’s cowardice was great, and I just thought Fr. Tomas was the calmest, most focused person in the book – which really made me root for him. It’s pretty much my “thing” to do feminist critiques of EVERY FRIKKIN THING because I accidentally signed up for a feminist lit course in college (they told us it was going to be on monsters in literature – it wasn’t). The female characters were very sexualized and, in my opinion, objectified. So, even though the ladies disappointed me, a lot of the guys made up for it.

Another common plot device was the “we can’t tell you, there’s not enough time!” trope. Never was it so necessary to act so quickly that an explanation could not be forthcoming, and it left me frustrated more often than I was pleasantly surprised later. Many, many books and media make use of this, so it’s not a real problem so much as just a pet peeve of mine.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

There were three main threads of plot that I’ll talk about:

  1. Fr. Tomas and Tasha Halpern
    This plot’s main purpose was to interrogate the alien currently held by the government. Fr. Tomas was one of my favorite characters, and he added a lot both thematically and as contrast with other characters. Since Fr. Tomas and Tasha were trying to undo some of the damage done by earlier interrogators, this was the section where you see some of the hints of the past and how the alien is there. However, the solution presented at the end of this was achieved rather suddenly – but the twist (that the alien was linked with Landon) was very good.
  2. Nadia, Dev, Billy, and other randos
    This one had a LOT of characters involved. Nadia was a terrible person – and she did it using sex. Because of the way Nadia used sex, a specific way I just don’t see believable or useful, I couldn’t get behind this plot. Dev’s actions in response to Nadia depended on them having sex, as did most of the rest of the plot, and… I just couldn’t dig it. This was definitely my least favorite of the three subplots.
  3. Landon and the mercs
    Like I said above, Landon wasn’t terribly active. However, there was plenty of excitement to be had. Once the mercs take him to South America, the need to survive and get away from them becomes imperative. Landon and the mercs’ indigenous guides are great characters, and I thought the death of Lorena (one of the guides) provided a lot of motivation for the remainder of the book.

Anyway, I hope you’ll take this review and think about if the book sounds like it’d be your speed!

Next week:

It’s time to start August off right! Stay tuned to find out my new reading theme of the month and sit back for a whirlwind ride.

Book Review: From Ashes to Magic

I found this book because a person I follow, Ari Meghlen, is included in this book as an author. It seems like several Twitter-famous people were involved with this sucker, so let’s see if the most vehemently political and nonsense social media platform knows its stuff!

The Book

48430321._sy475_From Ashes to Magic
Author: Various
2019
Amazon Link

This book is a short story compilation about supernatural beings. I don’t know what it will actually contain from the beginning, but there are 10 stories and/or poems by 10 different authors. I follow Ari Meghlen, but I’ve never read her work before and so was excited.

Non-Spoiler Review

This collection was an absolute mixed bag. Some of the stories I found incredibly creative or gorgeous, but with others I was very confused about and didn’t like at all. There were a few I didn’t feel strongly about.

However, the two stories I liked the most made me feel like the purchase was worth it. I really enjoyed the delicious writing and mythological feel of N. Pan’s “Life and Death,” and the creativity of “The Locksmith” was superb. Those two stories alone made me feel like the book was worth reading, but those two stories weren’t all that made up the selection.

Several of the stories felt incomplete, or more like the first chapter of a longer narrative than something created for a short story collection. I think people did things like this back in the Golden Age of sci-fi and short story compilations, but it irks me and I dislike unfinished shorts.

Something else I found odd was that this compilation may just as well have been about witches (or witches with a different title). A full half the stories either had witches or closely involved witches within their storylines, and two of the remaining five involved half-demons/devils. The other three beings were gods, a vampire, and a ghost. The book is billed as an array of magical creatures, but the variety was limited and all were humanoid.

Lastly, some editing could have helped. There were several immersion-breaking mistakes that another once-over by the editor should have caught.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

For compilations and chapbooks, I like to talk about a selection of 3 stories: my favorite, a standout, and my least favorite.

Favorite: Life and Death, N. Pan
Beautifully written poem about the birth, experiences, and strifes between siblings Life and Death. The entire thing flows with a gorgeous cadence, and a sad, longing ballad builds to a religiously-tinged story of two gods’ fall.

Standout: The Locksmith, A. Meghlen
One of the most creative stories in the book, The Locksmith’s magical creature was actually a non-magical person in a highly magical world. Though there were wizards and sorcerers and the like in this story, all the tropes were turned on their heads in a tale with a great plot.

Least Favorite: Broken Promises, E. Chartres
The vast majority of this story was descriptions of running through different scenes and two people saying “You promised,” “I promised.” Then, right at the end, the main character suddenly eats two people, reveals she’s a vampire, and becomes evil. I found the story clunky from a plot perspective, the characters impossible to parse, and the prose difficult to read.

Next week:

I’ll be reviewing another Twitter-found story, The Gate, which is part of a series and published by an indie publisher (I think). Stay tuned!

Book Review: Through the Nethergate

I was eagerly awaiting this novel’s arrival since Cheadle announced it on her blog. Then, one day, I saw the announcement – it was on Amazon, and thus I could get it! So I went and bought it.

The Book

41umochifzlThrough the Nethergate
Author: Roberta Eaton Cheadle
2019
Amazon Link

This novel was billed as a paranormal horror about a young girl – Margaret – who is flung into a horrifying experience with ghosts, monsters, and historical people. By the existence of Heaven and Hell as mentioned in the blurb, I expect there’s some Christian mythology involved, but that doesn’t bother me! Tally ho!

Non-Spoiler Review

Fantastically researched. Spooky as hell. I’ve never had to put a book down because I was too freaked out, but now I have. If you want to know more about some really horrible people and horrible circumstances, this book is full of them.

Something strange about this book that I rather enjoyed but which might not appeal to everyone was the piles of stories about the ghosts and “incarnates”. Many ghosts or groups of ghosts had a story behind them, and Cheadle put together a well-researched summary of their lives and why their souls were trapped on Earth or in Hell. In effect, this book often felt like a compilation of historical stories, but that was right up my alley. There was also not as much dialogue as you might expect in a novel, but a lot of it was tied into this historicity.

That’s not saying that the overall plot wasn’t good – it was definitely good – but it wove more like a thread into and between all these other stories. It held everything else together like a glue. The main premise – that ghosts gained bodies when they were around Margaret – was also a lot of fun. Margaret wasn’t overpowered, so the stress you feel at failures and difficulties was very worthwhile.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The main thing I’d like to talk about in the spoilers review is the role of Margaret. Though she was a main character who has things happen to her rather than drive the story on her own, and though I usually rip a book and take off a snowcone for it, Cheadle did a good job with it. Though Margaret was the focal point, other characters’ points of view were used well. The changing protagonists gave a good view of the overall problems and challenges, and it didn’t feel like Margaret had to be the main character. I thought it worked.

I was, however, a little confused why Lucifer became the main villain about halfway through. The ghost Hugh Bigod was a great villain, and I was into it. Though Lucifer was also a good villain and was definitely a more difficult foe, I wasn’t sure I liked that switch. It worked out, but my investment in Bigod’s story felt like it just kind of evaporated.

Still, that opened up to awful, awful (and spooky!) things like the story of Amelia Dyer. That was freaky stuff, and I’ll never forget that part.

Next week:

Next week, I’ll be reading the short story compilation, Ashes to Magic! It’s got a lot of Twitter-Famous people in it, so stay tuned!

Book Review: Legacy of Souls

Last year, I read one of D. Wallace Peach’s earlier works and ended up choosing it as my favorite indie book of the year. Excited by the prospect of truly enjoying an author’s work, I wanted to continue reading some of her repertoire and moved to one of her newest series – The Shattered Sea books.

I recently read the fantastic Soul Swallowers, and I decided following that up with the second entry in the series was worthwhile.

The Book

51r2wjeqkzl._sy346_Soul Swallowers
Author: D. Wallace Peach
2018
Amazon Link

I thought the first entry in the series was absolutely fantastic and I suggest it to everyone. I thought this seemed like a Game of Thrones done in a way more fantastical and more up my alley (i.e. less flopping wieners). I’m excited to see where this goes.

Non-Spoiler Review

Peach continues to amaze me and convince me that indie books are worth a try. Legacy of Souls is an epic book about deep characters (Johzar alone is just an amazing amalgam of so many pieces). I enjoyed reading it, though perhaps not as much as the first book in the series.

If you know me, you can probably expect that I love books about political nonsense. That’s probably part of why I enjoyed this – the court intrigue, the master plots concerning slavery laws, the class struggles, and all that really drew me in. Because of this political complexity, however, I would definitely say this book couldn’t stand on its own. Without that introduction from Soul Swallowers, I believe the situations as they are at the beginning of the book would be hard to understand. That’s not a bad thing since Soul Swallowers is just so damn good, but it should be taken into account in the case you want to read this.

This book focused on Raze, similarly to the last book, but there was a larger cast of characters that the narrator zoomed in on. Despite Raze’s continued involvement, I would say the main character of this book was actually a woman named Danzell. I was a little torn over this decision since Raze’s story was still complex enough to carry a plot, but Danzell was way more interesting in this book and could have also been the primary focus. I think Peach pulled off a fantastic story, but part of me wishes that there had been a more definitive main character.

There were also far more fight scenes in this book. Peach’s skills with fight scenes have definitely been honed since she wrote Aeris, but I thought there may have been a few too many. A few times I wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to talk their way into a solution, but the added battles did add to a sense of urgency that wasn’t as obvious in Soul Swallowers.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

In this book, the fates of Laddon and Nallea from book one feeds directly into the issue with Benjmur and his schemes to gain power in The Vales. Nallea’s relationship with her traitorous dad was very complex and nuanced. Despite having proof that her dad was a slimeball, Nallea still loved him. Her prior life experience had led her to believe he was kind and good, and she couldn’t fight that belief despite the evidence pointing otherwise.

Throughout the book, the importance of putting Danzell on the Ezarian throne becomes more important. Though a relatively minor character in Soul Swallowers, I would dare to say she may have been the main character in Legacy of Souls. Her story was the most pressing and important, and this made sense – however, there was also a focus on Raze, which I found a little less exciting.

Now, don’t think this is anything knocking the overall book. The book as a whole was one of the best indie books I’ve ever read (probably second to Soul Swallowers). What I think made it second to Swallowers was the Bel storyline. It felt like her abduction into slavery was mostly intended as motivation for Raze and Johzar to cross the Shattered Sea, but there was plenty of other reason to go ahead and cross. Johzar, who felt loyal to Danzell, could have crossed to help her. Raze could have crossed to clear his family’s name at the expense of Benjmur and Emperor Kyzan. Bel’s abduction here made her seem helpless, since she essentially spends most of both books with the threat of forced labor and rape looming over her constantly. She felt pretty underutilized in this book, since she served primarily as additional motivation rather than contributing actively to the plot. You may disagree, though! Get a move on and buy these books already so you can prove me wrong!

Next week:

I’m reading E. Kathryn’s Laevatein’s Choice, a paranormal novel! Get hype!

Book Review: Child of Humanity

Are you in the mood for some science fiction? Because I’m in the mood for some science fiction.

The Book

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Child of Humanity
Author: Dr. Alyse N. Steves
2016
Amazon Link

This book was written by an author who runs/ran the Twitter game #MeetAWriter. That’s all well and good, but the author is also a PhD in the sciences (not sure which one), which made me instantly interested for obvious reasons. What kept me from reading/reviewing this earlier was the cover – I just don’t like it. I also don’t really like the title, but I like more esoteric bullshit for titles.

Non-Spoiler Review

I thought this book was solid, but not perfect. The idea behind it – that advanced aliens can act as doppelgangers (or “Gangers”) to help/hinder less advanced species’ growth – was totally innovative and integral to the plot. It was interesting to see how the narrator(s)’ opinions on the Ganger system changed as more information was revealed to everyone. I enjoyed much of the plot, at least from a global point of view, and there was always tension to keep the story going. The first chapter felt a little off since it didn’t really give you any of the real premise, but once you’re past that, it was a good story.

The writing was also tight and clean. I noticed no grammar mistakes or typos, though I did catch some word repetition and a few key phrases that were overused. There were several paragraphs that contained background or backstory information that I sheepishly admit that I skimmed or skipped, but they were very long and not integral to the story.

The main character, Saira, was usually pretty relatable, but in some ways I disliked that. Though she had trained to infiltrate human society within a manufactured human body, I didn’t really get much alien feeling from her. She was vegetarian and “pacifist,” but neither of those really felt inhuman. None of the aliens, no matter their form, truly felt alien. I also felt weird about how the aliens called themselves aliens, as if they took the perspective of the humans throughout the book. More about this is in the spoilers.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Something I look for in books focusing on aliens, robots, monsters, or other, non-human sentients, is this feeling of “other” without the Pinnochio-like desire to become “normal” like the humans in the rest of the story. In the end of Child of Humanity, Saira becomes Sarah and lives her life out as a human. The other Gangers do the same thing, and all of them opt for shorter lifespans in order to be like the people they impersonated. Because the aliens never really felt alien, this desire to become human at the end felt a little off to me. Why, if they’d lived thousands of years with aliens and only about a hundred years with humans, did they develop such strong desire to identify with the humans? The connections back to their home planets and original families felt undervalued.

There were also a couple chapters about halfway through that felt repetitive. The efforts Saira made towards getting her friends to accept her as an alien kept getting reverted, and I didn’t quite understand why the same plot and character progress had to be repeated several times.

Lastly, the part where it’s revealed Jillian was a Ganger of herself, then how she was sent to the Council and saved all of intergalactic space with a 3-day speech didn’t really make sense. It felt like her efforts to save humanity and change the Council’s political direction should have failed if all the other efforts had failed. Most of it isn’t even on-screen.

Next week:

Next week, we’re pursuing a book I’ve wanted to review for a while: Kevin Parish’s What Words May Come. Stay tuned!