Book Review: A Dark Genesis

I like to frequent Berthold Gambrel’s review site, and once in a while I find a book that I think is going to be a very worthwhile read. This was one of those books, so I got a copy and set it where I wanted it on my to be read list.

The Book(s)

A Dark Genesis
Author: Cheryl Lawson
2020
Amazon Link

There are some medically gruesome scenes, body horror, and some violence. If you can do Star Trek or Farscape without cringing, though, this won’t have any effect on you. The only thing is that there’s quite a bit of that body horror; even if it’s light, some people may not like that.

On With the Review!

Sometimes, you just find an indie author and an indie book that is so smooth and likeable that it makes you think it should have been published traditionally. This book had all the cleverness of a GOOD episode of Star Trek, but the alien was truly alien. The humans were truly human (and highly varied). The challenges of space felt real rather than “just the wild west”. The only reason I think this would have been hard to publish traditionally is the length: novellas just so rarely have a place to go.

One of the best decisions Lawson made was to have a main character that wasn’t 100% likeable. Sure, you could get behind Sage and root for her, but she had pretty massive flaws and social quirks that allowed her to make mistakes without it feeling cheesy. A policy I believe in is that if good or bad things happen to characters in a book, it shouldn’t feel like coincidence. Many times, poor communication creates these unlikely coincidences in stories. I think Sage’s sometimes abrasive personality allowed for the poor communication, disbelief, and competition between humans to flourish. Just who Sage was made all the subsequent events fall into place realistically, whereas I believe they’d have been considered “coincidence” if Sage were a better person.

Next, the alien. I love non-humanoid aliens (though, sadly, non-humanoid aliens often put them out of the reach of TV or movie budgets). This alien seemed so close yet so far away from communicating with the crew. Without spoiling much, the plot was centered on the invasion of an alien onto a generational ship. The alien didn’t board through traditional means; it entered the ship as a spore on tiny space debris (think hail-sized or smaller) that the ship ran into. Slowly, the spore turned into A LOT MORE THAN A SPORE, and the ship went into crisis mode. This invader reminded me a bit of the Solaris alien, but way, way more defensive. Though some characters wanted to communicate with it, the alien was also extremely invasive and dangerous. Do the mains ever succeed at cracking into the alien’s ways and talking to it? Well, I’ll let you read it and find out how they solve the issue.

The body horror was good. The description of the “infections” was horrifying and brutal. The punch to the gut when certain characters get hurt and bite the dust is fantastic, especially given the short length of the book. Cheryl builds relationships between her characters, and they all make sense given they’re on a generational ship controlled by a very prim and conservative computer.

Though it’s on the back end of my TBR now, I have also purchased the second book in the series and will be reviewing that soon. Lawson’s good, y’all.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

Interesting choice for the next one: How to Lose the Time War, another newer book that’s in vogue with the zeitgeist!

Book Review: Ringlander

Honestly, I have no idea where I found this book. My mind vaguely recalls me clicking a link on Twitter, but I have absolutely no recollection of exactly what tweet I stumbled upon. This is a $0.99 book, though, which meant I spent money on it; usually I remember where I found books I spend money on.

Either way, this is an indie book with a great cover and a great premise.

The Book

Ringlander: The Path and the Way
Author: Michael S. Jackson (a white, British guy, not the singer)
2021
Amazon Link

This book isn’t terribly gruesome, sexy, or full of cursing, but something about the way it feels and the way it presents its themes makes me think it’s clearly an adult work. Even with younger mains, like teen Kyira, this is probably not a great YA work. However, your teens can probably appreciate this book, especially if they have a maturity of spirit.

Non-Spoiler Review

Ringlander is an epic fantasy. While the world sometimes has a gritty feel, the book itself is clean compared to a lot of other epic fantasy of the era. It does have some of the good elements of the Game of Thrones feel while avoiding the unnecessarily gory or sexy parts that I thought ruined the popular series.

The storyline itself was pretty straightforward, even if the complex cast of characters made it twist and turn around such that it kept me on my toes. At times, I wasn’t sure if any certain character was going to survive. Enough characters did bite the dust that, like in Game of Thrones, you couldn’t feel like anyone was safe. I did like the main character, Kyira, and was interested in her story. She was plucky, dutiful, and a great unwilling protagonist. There were other points of view, however, I was less interested in; I think this is inevitable when making use of a complex cast, but I found myself longing for the Kyira chapters during some of the Fia chapters.

I enjoyed how the fantasy elements were very obvious and how well interwoven they were into the story. The people within the world smoothly interacted with the magical elements and treated them like they were always supposed to be there, not like a new thought or object they needed to explain to the reader. I especially liked how magic was integrated into the politics without it being the typical “magic people are oppressed” or “magic people oppress the non-magical.” By choosing to have non-human characters that have a strange opinion on the value of humans, Jackson created something very new and different.

The front end of the book was well-edited and tight, but this became less true as the book went on. Some additional edits to the book would make it smoother. As well, there were places where it moved a bit too slowly for my tastes. If you like epic fantasy that doesn’t mind mulling over some minutia and taking its time with character interactions, that won’t bother you, though.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I finished it a while back, but boy have I gotten behind on making review posts. Stand by for Lord of the Flies! After that, I promise I read The Ten Thousand Doors of January and will have a post on that soon.

Book Review: The Tides of Reckoning

This is the follow up to a book I read last year, The Outlands, by Tyler Edwards. It was a fun-filled romp, so hopefully this one will be too!

The Book

Tides of Reckoning (The Outlands, Book 2)
Author: Tyler Edwards
2021
Amazon Link

Much like the first book, this has a lot of intense action and situations. However, it still is relatively clean, and anything truly untoward is fulfilled offscreen and mentioned in leading if not explicit terms. There are several violent scenes, but nothing is gory beyond the point that an American audience wouldn’t be ok with. Children probably shouldn’t read this book, but a teen might be able to appreciate it.

On With The Review

“The Tides of Reckoning” was full of action and, much like the first book in the series, excellent twists. Though this one didn’t have the same level of betrayals, backstabbing, and subterfuge, the environment itself served to keep things ever changing and on edge.

The book opens in quite an epic way: Jett, the main character, encounters some pretty gnarly monsters. Unarmed, without any form of sustenance or shelter, Jett must figure out how to get to any form of settlement in order to survive. Of course, given that this is a book and books usually require certain amounts of communication with other sentients, I’ll go ahead and spoil that he does – in one form or another – find people.

Something that this book did was it accounted for the open threads at the end of book 1. Whether alive, dead, or somewhere in between, the characters in book 1 at least return or are mentioned long enough to figure out the next step and set up the next part of the story. As far as the non-Jett characters went, I rather enjoyed what happened to Lilly – her transformation was pretty epic. Pay attention to Becka, as well; she got a bigger slice of the screen this time, and her development added a lot to the story.

Continuing with the trend of speaking about the ladies, I’ll move on to the new characters: Kali. In addition to creating a love triangle alongside Jett and Lilly, Kali is another strong female character trying to make her way in a very patriarchal society. Something I like about Edwards’s writing is how Jett, the narrator, still sees things through a slightly patriarchal perspective (at least to a point – he’s by far not the worst in the book, and he tries hard), but Jett can still realize he’s been thinking about things wrong. It constantly shakes up the feelings and information within the pages and shows how mood and tone are distinct and matter so much. It’s delicious how Edwards can take male gaze and flip it on its head. With Kali, especially in something he does at the end, Edwards does this very well.

As far as concepts go, I’m hoping there will be more about the Triblings in book 3. The Triblings are native to the Outlands and, as such, aren’t quite the same as the human outcasts of Dios or the other domed cities. Rowan, in “The Tides of Reckoning”, is the primary Tribling of note, but he’s quiet and doesn’t say much. We learn that he’s had a rocky and traumatic past, but beyond that, he’s mysterious and superpowered. I’d like to know more about them – and maybe why they haven’t become the leaders of the wastelands.

Last, and I can’t say much without spoilers, the villain in this book was very good. I think I actually liked him better than the Patriarch because he had a backstory that was interesting.

Complaints about the book were mostly that some of the fights and challenges were solved by luck or another, uncontrollable event. It was never a big letdown, but sometimes that tricky environment would work for the characters in unexpected but positive ways. It also worked against them at other times, so it should balance out, but I rarely like convenient solutions to problems in book. It’s just the way I am. Jett’s strengths and weaknesses also didn’t feel terribly consistent; I get the feeling he’s supposed to be like Hazel in Watership Down, wherein he’s really good at delegation and motivation. However, he’s also sometimes got powers in terms of personal combat, or strategy, or whatever is convenient. Other times, he doesn’t, and it often depends on plot. Like with the random environmental effects, it’s never a major dealbreaker, but it’s a subtle thing that I noticed.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS Review

I don’t like spoilers for new books, but I will say this: I love Edwards’s endings. He does wrap up enough loose threads that I felt satisfied by the end, but he left a fantastic spoiler that made me NEED that next book. Ugh, why is it not already out?!?

What I’m Reading Next:

My computer’s recent demise has caused me to fall very behind on my post schedule. As a result, I’m going to fill you in on some of the reads I’ve done since then as I read through the large follow up to Uphadyay’s Secrets of Plants in the Environment!

Book Review: Halo’s Rag Doll

I have followed E. Kathryn and the Shadows series since I first beta read the first book. You can find reviews for Fire’s Hope and Laevatein’s Choice at their respective links.

The Book

Halo’s Rag Doll (The Shadows: Book 3)
Author: E. Kathryn
2022
Amazon Link – PRE-ORDER at time of review!

First, I received an ARC copy in return for an honest review. I don’t normally do this for people, but I’ve followed E. Kathryn for quite a while and think I can do a good review. I did also beta read, but so much changed between the version I read and this final, polished version that I can be completely honest.

Second, this is YA. VERY YA. I really do think that a teen would enjoy this more than an adult, and I think E. Kathryn does a great job really digging into that teen vibe.

On With The Review

Wow – even compared to Laevatein’s Choice, the second book in the series, Halo’s Rag Doll is incredibly complex and ambitious. The story follows a set of kids with superpowers – well, it’s more complicated than just superpowers, but roll with me for a hot second – as they take a journey in search of a powerful fellow Shadow. It’s a powerfully plot-centered book, but in this one the main characters (Mark, Sil, Kip, Emilie, January, and a couple brand new characters) start to get more adult emotions, drives, and personalities. The plot is what’ll hook you, but the characters are what you’ll remember. The huge cast starts to come together more in this book, and their personalities more distinct.

As you might suspect, the journey becomes one of self-discovery and growth. The delve into the wilderness becomes both literal and figurative. I like how the sort of Moses leading the Israelites feeling/analogy that I read into the first book in the series continues here, especially as the main characters navigate using their powers. This is the first book in the series where the characters reveal some of the deep aspects of the worldbuilding that connect the entire series together. The book, like the other two, wraps up the major plot threads at the end, but I’m really, REALLY hoping E. Kathryn comes up with a fourth book. (WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING, KIMBERLY!? ALSO THAT LAST LINE IN THE BOOK IS KILLING ME!)

Something I think was handled very well was continuing the story from book 2. (Spoiler for book 2 ahead) In Laevatein’s Choice, pretty much all the characters get disturbed by some rather violent events. Main character Mark was left physically handicapped. That mental disturbance and physical disability isn’t just handwaved away in Halo’s Rag Doll – no, the characters are still working through that, even though the book takes place two years following the events of Laevatein’s Choice. The kids also respond to everything in a more kid-like manner, and the adults can have more adult viewpoints. I think Keller in this book is exactly as steadfast and reliable as we want him to be, even if he’s not as present as he was in prior books.

Also, in Laevatein’s Choice, we got a peak into Mark’s romantic life with Rita. That love story makes for a great b-plot, and I think the underlying messages about abusive relationships, growing up, forgiveness, and letting go are major parts of this.

There are two major flaws with this book. One is that you absolutely, positively must read both Fire’s Hope and Laevatein’s Choice before you read this one. While there’s enough refresher at the front end that someone who read the books a while back can re-acclimatize to the world, I fully believe there’s simply no way a reader new to the series would enjoy this. You go straight into the deep end with some really complex world mechanics here, and it includes everything you’ve learned in books 1 and 2, then adds some things.

If you don’t read the first two books, the character named “New” will make no sense. Novas will seem like they’re out of nowhere. Kimberly’s infusion will be pure witchcraft. If you have read the first two books, you can enjoy the build, the new ideas, and the characterization that go along with a straightforward (though FILLED WITH GREAT TWISTS) plot.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS Review

Hey, I don’t do spoilers for recent books, but I wanted to tell y’all some stuff I know from behind the scenes.

E. Kathryn took a lot longer to write this book than the other two. I saw an early draft (VERY early) not too long after Laevatein’s Choice debuted, and boy. Boy was the ambition there, but the execution just took it all over the place. Kathryn did a lot of self reflection and put a ton of work into this. This published version? IT WORKS. It’s great. Everything that happens flows, and the build to the self-discovery elements is at the center of it all. I’m thrilled to see such a good final product, and I’m really glad E. Kathryn put in all the work to make this book really fantastic.

If you’re eager to look into a story about teens growing up and deciding who they are without sacrificing plot, this book continues to build on top of what we’ve already seen.

What I’m Reading Next:

Look, my computer died and I’ve read books that didn’t get a review in the meantime. I’m going to have to be playing catch up soon. Right now I’m on my work computer, though (shhhhhh), so I’ve not got as much leeway as usual.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing has been read, and it’s coming Monday!

Book Review: The Gossamer Globe

I have gotten to the point where if Berthold Gambrel says a book is good, it looks interesting to me, and I have a bit of cash to throw away, I trust it and dig in. That’s how you get this review of what I suppose I can describe as a steampunk indie romp.

The Book

The Gossamer Globe
Author: Abbie Evans
2019
Amazon Link

There are no trigger warnings for this book, nor are there really any problems with it in terms of foul language. In fact, you could probably let a kid read this without feeling like you did them a disservice. A kid probably wouldn’t like it because the language has a pseudo-Victorian feel to it, but there’s nothing bad.

However, the book is FREE. Not even Kindle Unlimited free – straight up free. Why not just get it?

On With The Review

First off: fantasy-sci-fi steampunk book with sword fighting, democratic politics, and a healthy dose of humor. There was no way I wasn’t going to like this book. No way. Evans writes well, to boot, which allowed those fantastic elements to just shine through.

The humor was very well placed, and it called back to itself in ways that just kept being funnier. One of the longest-running jokes was about The Royal Cheese Wheel. Before the book started, a bloodless revolution occurred, and the monarchy was deposed. There was much pre-book controversy over what the old Queen (Mrs. Battenbox) would be allowed to keep, and one of the items of highest concern was an endless cheese wheel. Since technology has overtaken magic in terms of convenience, capability, and egalitarianism, magicians have been shuttled away into the one job most suited to them: cheesemaking. Mrs. Battenbox’s endless cheese wheel was a result of this magical cheesemaking, and its eternal qualities make it of extreme interest to many parties.

Granted, that hilarious cheese wheel does not steal the show from the plot overall. Following the election night, the democratic process immediately goes to hell. The characters, who often settle problems by sword fighting, struggle to figure out how to rule without doing so absolutely. As factions form and it seems a civil war may even break out, the new prime minister – Lucia Straw – struggles to keep everything together. Cloaked in steampunk aesthetic and swaddled in a sort of Samurai sense of honor, the country of Zatoria seems the perfect birthplace for people like Lucia and Mrs. Battenbox.

I enjoyed watching Lucia in her struggle. She was charismatic enough to make you root for her, yet incompetent enough that you could see how an opposition would form. Mrs. Battenbox’s obvious conniving – sometimes even open scheming – made her an intriguing character that I was always looking at for mistakes or villainy. What I didn’t see coming, though, was the end.

While the end was OK, I have to admit I really wasn’t a fan. I think it probably leads well into book 2, but golly gee whiz. To understand why this is 4 stars instead of 5, you’ll need to read the spoiler.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS Review

Please, for the love of God, DO NOT read this spoiler if you want to read this book at all. The twist I am about to reveal to you is NECESSARY for you to understand my rating and how I feel about the book, but it will absolutely ruin that rush to the finish.

The main problem in the book is that the loser of the election, Kailani, accuses Lucia Straw and the Sheppardor party of election meddling. Kailani leads her political party to the north where they pretty much take over the army there. They entrench themselves in Lissdale, and they make what seems to be empty overtures at diplomacy. Throughout the book, Lucia tries to convince Kailani that the election wasn’t rigged.

But there’s a problem: at the end of the book, it’s revealed that the election was rigged, and Lucia had done it. She’d just driven herself to be delusional in order to forget the deed.

While it was a major twist and I didn’t see it coming, I really didn’t see it coming. It was too far out of left field, and it felt like a betrayal to the reader. The build was going for at least a payoff that vindicated Lucia Straw, perhaps even let her win a swordfight once after several losses throughout the book, but then it just didn’t. Lucia was the bad guy the whole way through and, as an unreliable narrator, led the reader to believe a false narrative.

That bait-and-switch didn’t settle right for me.

What I’m Reading Next:

I’m going to finish How to Fight Presidents soon enough! Stay tuned.

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!