Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

My Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (Coarse language and violence)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start again? To some, this may be paradise–leaving mistakes beneath dust clouds of the past, but to others this may be a sad thought. Everything you once knew has changed: family, friends, way of life. Enter the mind of Jedidiah Troyer, emigrating to the planet of New Pennsylvania where he will work shovel and trowel to build an Amish paradise for his and his own. The question is, how much does one Amish man lose by entering a world of electronics, the internet, and spaceships, and is such loss of “plain” comforts worth the price of starting over?

The Good:

Michael Bunker has a unique way of blending the slow paced Amish world with the magic of new worlds on a thrill ride of culture clash. He speckles nods to “plain” living like stars set to contrast the black night of space itself. Way up there, science fiction thrives, yet never does Bunker forget his roots–seemingly oxymoronical, yet relevant. Cultural blending through compare and contrast has been something that I have come to love about Bunker’s writing style, and Pennsylvania does not fail my expectations of such brilliance. He sets the pace, builds the world, and defines the characters like Adam in Eden: placed just so.

Not only does Bunker have a handle on setting up his universe of Pennsylvania, but such is used as a launching pad for the thrills that follow. The reader is neither thrown blindly into the action, nor are they held back from the ride too long. As the pages turn, what seems at first to be a simple trip to some other world turns out to be much more than meets the eye.

Bunker has collected 5 episodes into this single Omnibus edition. Each episode ends with cliff-hanger excellence, but this does more than keep the reader invested in the series. Many episodes end with a nod to the next, revealing minute mysterious clues that keep the reader’s mind turning while they are hanging onto the edge of their seat for the next page’s revelation.

Unlike W1ck (see my review of W1ck), Pennsylvania has a satisfactory ending. The conclusion still comes rather quickly, but not overly so because of Bunker’s unique writing style. The wrap-up is much more conclusive while leaving room for some expansion into further forays of Amish/sci-fi delight. In short, it satisfies.

The Bad:

There is some amount of tell instead of show when it comes to describing the culture of this new world that Jed has entered. Instead of fully fleshing out the cultural discrepancies, Bunker glosses over them making the world and Jedediah’s integration with it less believable, and equally loses reader satisfaction points.

Much like W1ck (though different in it’s own ways), the whole Omnibus collection feels like a prologue. Bunker clearly has a plan for future books within this universe, but Pennsylvania has a distinct “book zero” feel instead of a “book one.” There is a lot culture/tech explanation as well as character introductions, but very little plot. Bunker has a handle on crafting worlds with nonchalant flavour, but his plots are the furthest thing from complex or surprising.

Conclusion: All in all, if you are anything like me, you will fall in love with Bunker’s ability to shape worlds and craft cultures. These pros are what keep me coming back to books by this author, but the lack of plot complexity and endings that leave things hanging, as if Bunker simply ran out of words, leave me a little dissatisfied. This, however, by no means dissuades me from reading more excellent Amish Science Fiction, but it does not put Bunker on my oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-wait-til-the-next-book-comes-out list.

Where you can find it:
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Thread in the Tangle by Sabrina Flynn

A fantasy tale about fiery nymphs and flaming lust

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (Sexual content, fantasy violence)

Fire. It is in us all. Sometimes it comes out, forged with passion or shaped by rage. Ears turn red, face ruby from infused flames licking beneath flesh. Fire can be strong or weak, fighting from beneath rain’s blanketing assault, or combusting the world with spontaneity like a desert: dry. Yes, I speak figuratively, but what if such flaming manifestations could be a reality. Imagine, living in a world full of wonder, a fantasy world with flames bursting from ears, licking beneath flesh, destroying all in its wake (wilfully or by accident’s design). If you can imagine such, then your mind is comparable with Sabrina Flynn, the author of A Thread in the Tangle.

The Good:

The above description does no justice to this book, but instead (like a raging fire) is a spark to catch the dry wood in imagination’s realm, drawing in the reader before consuming them completely. A Thread in the Tangle implements a similar technique, drawing in the reader with beautifully crafted prose and life philosophising from the first line. I can say it no better than the author herself.

Time is fickle, ever chang­ing and flow­ing, ebbing like the sea.  A vast ocean of mo­ments brush­ing against the next, rip­pling be­neath wa­ters both turgid and calm.  It slips be­tween our fin­gers when we wish to hold it, yet moves with slug­gish stub­born­ness when we seek to flee it, rid­ing upon our shoul­ders like an op­pres­sive yoke.  Time is a bur­den we can­not es­cape.  Our lives are swal­lowed in the cold, dark wa­ters of its un­fath­omable depths; never to be re­mem­bered or re­called, fad­ing like a whis­per that never was.  On oc­ca­sion—a very rare oc­ca­sion—one mo­ment will brush against the next and a spark will flare to life that re­fuses to be ex­tin­guished. This is the mo­ment, the spark, and this is how the end be­gins for a shat­tered realm—with a small nymphling who was cold.

This prologue drew me into a story full of emotional turmoil, political intrigue, love, loss, and all that is in between. The characters are wonderfully crafted so that, by the time this story’s fire is raging, the reader can see all shades of blues and reds amidst the orange flames. The banter between said characters is delicious. It adds a fresh element of humour to some of the longer scenes that would be, otherwise, dry. This keeps the pacing up during character development.

Most of the story is told from select points of view. Shifting between these, speckled with a touch of intrigue, works great for building suspense. Some of the concepts have just enough explanation to make them believable, then are left to linger, keeping the reader invested, turning pages faster before the flames catch hold — the story dying in such wake.

The Bad:

Despite all of the glory seen in this flame, sometimes fire can be destructive, leaving nothing but charcoal and death behind. The story is mostly believable and manageable, but in a few places it rages out of control, getting lost in it’s own beauty without realizing there is a story to tell. Behind all the character magic and descriptive excellence, the plot stands still, like logs waiting to be lit. Once the plot starts, it progresses nicely, but lighting this flame earlier would have enhanced this book immensely.

Once fires rage too high, they begin to lose some beauty. This is the case with some longer, drawn-out descriptions of the world’s history and concept explanations through dialogue. These are brief and easily forgettable, but bring the book to a screeching halt like a water barrel to snuff out flames. These wet logs, then, take some time to get started again, creating pacing issues.

Conclusion:

Despite some too-extensive, dry world development and a plot coming too long over-due, A Thread in the Tangle is enjoyable. The philosophising through prose is wonderful, and the characters are well developed. If you enjoy fantasy with flame-eared nymphs tangled in the treads of time, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

CyberStorm by Matther Mathers

A post-apocalyptic book without zombies!

The Rating: 
Adult-content Rating: PG-13 (Coarse Language and mature subject matter)

The Good:

This book had all of the things that make an end-of-world scenario great. #1 the main focus was on the relationships and how the disastrous situations were effecting everyone. As far as I am concerned, this is key. Too often I find that end-of-the-world type of books are a lot about the action, but forget that there are characters behind everything going on.

Mather sets the scene well by introducing families and friends, developing relationships before the the world starts falling apart. As a reader, I got a feel for what was happening inside the character’s heads, and could relate with them the whole way through. They played off of each other’s strong/weak points well, making for a fairly well-rounded cast.

The story moved along at a steady pace. This is not an “action heavy” book, nor is it a slow romp through a world that has fallen apart. CyberStorm follows the lives of key individuals as the world is falling apart, and the reader gets to see how they interact before, during, and after the fact. The day-to-day survival is a big focus, and naturally there are some people working toward this common goal, and others… not so much. The tension of learning how to survive and just get along, while still deciding what (and who) is the most important, is knit together really well. There is just enough tension (relationally) to keep the reader pressing on. This is, by far, the selling feature of CyberStorm.

The Bad:

I was ready to rate this book 4 stars up until the end. It is fairly well-put-together until the post-crisis moments. Mather uses a “24” style of progression, setting up time/day markers instead of chapter headings. This lets the reader know exactly when things are happening, and serve to build tension in a few places. This, however, falls apart at the end where weeks go by and “things happen.” It goes from skipping hours within a day to jumping weeks (and even months) ahead without any real warning. Because of this, much of the “so, why did x happen in the book?” answers fall flat with long drawn-out passive voice descriptions of “this is what happened over the last week/month that we just skipped.” I understand that the author wanted to pick up the pace a bit for the ending, but I feel like it could have been done a lot better.

The only complaint I had for most of the book (taking it from 5 to 4 stars) is that the reader is kept in the dark of what actually is going on as far as the over-arching plot. This is, mostly, made up for by the day-to-day survival that sucks you in, but a better plot over-all would have done wonders for this book. And, as mentioned above, because of the poor over-arching plot, when things finally do come together, it almost feels silly to keep reading. Because the book is mostly about the relationship struggles and the drama of just trying to survive (lacking any real bigger picture moments) once all of this is taken away, the pages pass by dryly.

Conclusion:

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It held my attention with the suspenseful dire-straights living scenarios and relationship issues caused by the end-of-the-world writing environment. It is a pleasant treat to see characters that have real feelings and struggle with them as people would in such dystopian situations. Sadly, the bigger picture is patchy at best, and the ending makes this book fall flatter than it should. If you enjoy low sci-fi and dystopian fiction, I highly recommend this book.

Where you can find it:

Note: This book was originally self published and DRM-free in multiple places, but because of some recent publishing changes (CyberStorm now gone traditionally published) there is no longer anywhere to acquire this book without DRM. My apologies to those wishing to purchase this book DRM, and highest hopes to the author as he continues to flourish in his writing career.

Slow Boat to Purgatory by Vernon Baker

Purgatory: it’s only one slow boat away.

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG (Coarse language and mature themes)

Purgatory: that mythical place between Heaven and Hell, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place where people pay for their sins in hopes of gaining entry to Heaven. At least, that’s how most people think of it. To Vernon Baker is is a great place to tell a story.

The Good:

Slow Boat to Purgatory is the story of a man reading a story. Doesn’t that make you want to buy it? No really, it should. The reader has a unique opportunity to learn about the person behind the story, see their life as it plays out, and watch them escape into the pages. The story jumps between this reader’s point of view, and the telling of his life, into the story he is reading. The change is voice and point of view add flavour as the pages unfold, keeping the reader enraptured by what Baker has to say.

Not only does this keep things fresh, but it adds suspense to the telling. The reader finds out what is happening in snippets, and just when things are picking up, we are launched from the world being read back into reality, left asking, “what happens next! Why is the sad cebu sad?”

Reader engagement is kept until the very end. As the final pages are turned, curling under the weight of suspense, just enough questions are answers to tie things together, but enough is left in play to provide for future books.

The Bad:

Because of the nature of the telling, there is a fair amount of back-story. I usually love back-story. I love how it adds flavour to a tale, rounds out the characters, makes the book beautiful. Alas, this is not the case in Slow Boat to Purgatory. Much of the back-story is told through long sections of passive voice which are bland and uninteresting. Unfortunately, they also add little to the actual story, thus a failure on two accounts of potential magic.

The story itself isn’t bad, once it gets going. The problem, however, is that if you have a wonderful sports car, but the starter is shot, and you spend half a day grinding until it catches… the driver may lose interest. The back-story issues hit a little harder than they should because the story itself also takes far too long to progress. Pieces of the puzzle start to fit together about 50% of the way through, at which point the reader is almost ready to retire the sports car and just walk to the store. (The book store, obviously. What other type of store is there?)

Though it ends well, there are a number of elements introduced later on in the book that are simple grazed over, having no real impact on the plot. They appear to be important factors at first, but sadly are almost just thrown in for flavour, lacking substance and making the reader somewhat confused. It makes the story feel a bit disjointed.

Conclusion:

Slow Boat to Purgatory delivers a delightful tale of a man caught between the world of his book and the one he lives in. Purgatory itself is neat, but the boat there is slow. If you don’t mind the wait, and enjoy some intrigue mixed into your fantasy, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.OK)

Dead Roots by Brian Geoffrey Wood

There be demons in and out of mind…

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: R (Disturbing scenes, extreme course language, and sexual content)

What if demons didn’t lurk in the corners, filling our nightmares with images of terror, but instead walked among us. What if they walked in our skin? If you could see these demons for what they really are, the nightmares of your childhood becoming reality, what choice would you make? Fight, or flee? Thomas Bell chose the former.

Dead Roots is the story of a man haunted by dreams, images from his past bleeding into his present nightmares. Instead of running from his own demons, he faces the real ones on the supernatural plane, protecting society, covering up any trace of their presence. At least, that’s his job. To Thomas Bell, they are indeed real.

 

The Good:

Brian Geoffrey Wood drops the reader into the action right from the opening scene. The words turn to phrases, then to paragraphs, then to pages, and before the reader is aware they are sucked into the world of Dead Roots. Wood has a wonderful ability to weave culturally important elements into the action and dialogue, letting the reader grow in knowledge as the story he is telling flourishes. No passive voice or extensive amounts of dialogue are needed to “inform the reader” about how the world works. Wood has designed characters that talk to each other as regular people would, in a culture all of their own.

Thomas Bell hunts demons by day, while facing his own at night. Instead of being grazed over, his dreams come to life, popping with realism, his psychological turmoil growing into monstrous word-crafted demons in the reader’s head. His nightmares are filled with imagery, setting the scenes with an explosive flavour of delight, like biting into a juicy fruit (or perhaps a rotten fruit. His dream are nightmares, after all…).

Wood uses some quick point of view changes throughout, jumping around the action to keep things moving. Instead of leaving the reader in confusion, or slogging through over-description during intense action, this stylistic choice keeps the pacing up. It also adds suspense. There is nothing like having one character black-out after being punched, or loosing consciousness as they fall into a lake, to get the heart racing like a runaway train.

The Bad:

Some of the scenes end just to jump days later to a place and time unknown to the reader. This, in short, leaves the reader scratching their head, wondering how the story got from the last scene to the next, and questioning what happened in between. One particularly drastic jump in the middle makes the book seem like a new plot has been introduced – the old plot being left on the sidelines. The missing “connecting” scenes make it feel a bit disjointed.

There are small portions of over-description when dealing with the magic system. Instead of showing how it works, Wood opts for describing it. Mostly, this does not get in the way of the book’s feel as a whole, but takes away from some of the magic (no pun intended).

Conclusion:

Dead Roots is a decent book and is, for sure, worth your time. Despite a few pacing issues, Wood delivers a gloriously dark tale of horror from the mind of a psychologically tortured soul while he fights other truly tortured souls. If you do not have a stomach for gross images, or are put off by sexual content and lots of profanity, you should give this book a pass. However, if you like to read about the darkness that lives inside and outside of us all, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Get on Board Little Children by Victoria Randall

What if you needed a license to have children?

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG (Mature themes and sexual content)

Unwanted children run rampant in the streets. Kids are abused at home. One step at a time – one kid at a time – the world slowly progresses into chaos. This is the state of things in the near past of Get on Board Little Children. The near past that is out present day. Child Protective Services swoop in, hiding behind masks, saying they want to help – to make the world a better place – but broken families are left in their wake. Kids are ripped from the grasp of their parents because the home appears to be a “high risk.” Scold your child in public, take them out with too many holes in their clothes, face unwashed, and watch out! Your lack of money, or perception there of, might leave your home in disarray, and children taken away. This is the near past. What is the next political step? The next “fix” to challenge culturally “unfit” parents? Don’t let them have kids at all.

The Good:

Victoria Randall has been able to take this politically and culturally relevant scenario to the next level. Get on Board Little Children is set in the near future of our current world, a world where we work toward cultural peace (which really means that everyone has to be the same. The rich and stable rule the world, right?) It is not your standard Science Fiction read, but tackles culturally relevant issues in much the same way. What made me enjoy this book the most was not the writing style, the story, or any of those standard things, but in fact it was this cultural issue that resonated with my heart. It is the story of a woman who is on the run from the government because she doesn’t have enough money for the “I’m-allowed-to-have-a-baby” license, and will not go through with the mandated abortion.

I could write an entire review on the cultural relevance of this particular book, analysing the details to the point where it would make you cry, but alas, that would not be a book review, instead being a political statement. Suffice it to say, the moral issues this book deals with are the selling feature. However, there are other things that I liked about this book. (“Thank goodness! Get off your soap-box already!” “Okay, but only because you asked nicely.”)

The scenery that Randall has penned could be best described as word dressing. This near-future dystopian world lays before you. The plot is in place. The characters are there. But everything is naked like a blank page… until words come to dress this story, one piece of clothing at a time, making this culturally relevant story more culturally appropriate. The reader no longer has to look at a naked story, but is now delightfully informed of the little details that make a scene come alive, while still allowing the story to progress. Everyone can move forward and put clothes on at the same time… right?

The story follows our protagonist, for the most part, keeping things on track and succinct, but there are brief point-of-view switches to the “bad guys” which aid in fleshing out the thrill of the ride. The mostly single POV works well, as it is easy for the reader to follow along. The POV switches to the antagonist(s) are brief and punctuated, increasing the suspense level when things slow down for our protagonist(s). This use of POV changes not only kept the suspense level up, but aided immensely with pacing. The book is primarily fast-paced, but not because it is let’s-run-away-from-big-government-men-with-shotguns all the time. Yes, there are trials. There are struggles, but the thrill stays up because of the dire straits that our run-aways are in. The fast-paced scenes are well integrated and interspersed with slower scenes to allow our characters (and the reader) to re-cooperate.

The book ends on a satisfying note, wrapping up the plot nicely, as well as touching on some of the side character’s stories, giving them enough spot-light to feel closure. The plot is not very complex, but the lack of complexity allows for a quick and satisfying conclusion.

The Bad:

Though I enjoyed what word dressing there was, sometimes scenes were wearing nothing more than underclothing. This, perhaps, gives enough flavour to tell that it’s a person (or a scene… this metaphor has stopped working a long time ago) but not enough to accent their features. I didn’t feel emotionally engaged with the characters, even though they were dealing with some tough issues. This is not simply dialogue slapped on a blank canvas, but it is far from exemplary word/scene crafting.

Some of the side characters had intriguing stories to tell, but were not given enough of a spot-light to be worthwhile. Many of the characters lacked any real development, instead serving a single purpose and remaining the same from beginning to end. Even the main characters who got the most focus throughout were, for the most part, cardboard cut-outs. A few scenes act as shadows of development, but not enough to have any serious impact. This makes it difficult for the reader to relate emotionally with the characters.

More setting would have been nice. Right from the first sentence, the crisis has begun. There was enough world-building throughout to make the crisis believable and set it up, but not enough pre-emptive development to draw the reader in. Through the story, there is a little bit of development, but more before the plot picks up would have enhanced the emotional attachment between reader and characters.

Randall deals with some heavy issues, but because of the fast pacing, it almost makes the ethical questions dealt with feel forced, lacking the beauty of internal turmoil. The “on the run from the law” theme should set the characters, and thus reader, on edge and anxious, but the emotional impact of their situation is mostly missed.

Conclusion:

Get on Board Little Children is a thrill ride through a near-future world. It deals with all sorts of ethical questions concerning children in a realistic and believable way. The plot will draw you right in, and keep you entertained, but sadly, the lack of character and scene development leaves the book a little lacking. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable read that will keep you entertained until the last page.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)
Barnes & Noble

The Dim Realm by Matthew Holgate

No Dim words herein

The Rating:
Mature-content Rating: R (Coarse language, violence, and sexuality)

Have you ever woken up with a hang-over so bad that no amount of coffee can help you remember what happened last night? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I am willing to bet (don’t ask me how much) that once the truth of your night is revealed, it is nothing like the truth that Corin Drey discovers after waking up in similar straights. He wakes to find… dead bodies. How did they die, and what is he doing there? Find out in The Dim Realm by Matthew Holgate.

The Good:

The first thing that struck me was the length of this novel. A long book usually means one of two things: it is amazing, or it is awful. Within the first few pages I could tell that the former would be a more relevant description. The reader is immediately pulled into the scenes unfolding, hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling the world coming to life around them. The imagery in this book is amazingly flavourful, and the scenes are set beautifully. Holgate has a handle on how to use personification to bring a scene to life.

“Wind moaned in the trees behind him, drawing breath and then sighing. A lonely sound, a whispering voice born not of the ocean but of the land, one that yearned to cry out. It pleaded with the crash of waves and the pleas of gulls to listen, just as it pleaded with the traveller in words he almost knew. Come back to us. There is so much more to do.

Not only is the description so rich and inviting that the reader can forget where they truly are (and no, this time it’s not because of too much alcohol), but the internal musings of the characters are brilliantly rich and masterfully implemented. The back-story reveals through internal monologue are pleasingly realistic. Just like our minds and memories ramble about, so do they in the heads of the character in The Dim Realm. This adds delightful flavour to the characters that is not often seen.

The different point-of-view characters are wonderfully interwoven with smatterings of what is to come in someone else’s POV section, or reminders of what has happened through clever word choice. Just when the reader is wondering how this new POV section connects to the rest, enough clues are revealed to keep things succinct while remaining interesting and mysterious.

The Bad:

Sadly, every good thing must come to an end. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It has a lot going for it. Holgate knows how to craft a scene, shape characters, and implement a plot, but it falls flat in many areas.

The Dim Realm has a bad case of “can’t see the forest for the trees.” The trees are beautiful, wonderful, glorious even, but there is so much focus on the trees that the forest becomes a haze. Some scenes are very over-drawn with too much meticulous description of scenery and passive voice to explain the history of the world/characters. Mostly character history was well done, but sometimes it droned on in an unengaging manner, adding length but no meat to a scene.

This plays into the gigantic pacing issues. Most of the book is extremely slow, and it takes 90% of the book until the plot finally gets going. The whole thing felt like a giant introduction. To be fair, this is only Volume I of The Dim Realm, and there is more to come, but after 700 pages, I was hoping the plot would go somewhere.

Many scenes that should realistically be one chapter are split over ten chapters, stopping in the middle to flip to some other POV, and then that scene is cut off to flip back to the first scene that was previously left unfinished. Because of the long chapter lengths, this makes the book feel incredibly disjointed. I kept having to remind myself, “Where is this character again? What are they doing?” because the scene resumed in the middle. It is almost like in the middle of a heart-pumping fight sequence the reader is thrown over to watching some guy take a walk in the park. Such antics make the whole thing feel incredibly unrefined and lacks focus/immersion value.

On the note of action sequences, a lot of them are split so because they drag on forever. They plod along too slow to keep the thrill up because of over-description of every single sword swipe interspersed with giant internal monologue sections which break the flow. This gives much of the book a stop and go feel. The pages are filled with lights coloured yellow and red, but not many greens.

A number of chapters end with poorly implemented foreshadowing that ruins the thrill of what is going to happen. Often, the reader will experience concluding sentences such as: “he would, however, not see them again, because he was about to die,” or “little did they know that the man would never be the same again.” Instead of adding suspense, most of the time, this ruins the coming scene because the reader already knows what is going to happen.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, what made this book good is also what made it bad. The flavourful description and internal monologue is excellent – more than excellent, it is downright amazing – but too often poorly implemented, throwing off the book’s pacing. The book is great if you love getting into the heads of characters, being invested in a scene so much that your senses come alive. After reading it, I almost feel like the world described and the characters/culture therein are real. Sadly, the pacing issues in this book diminish it’s enjoyability factor. If you like a great fantasy tale of truly epic proportions, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Night Watcher by Chris Longmuir

Eyes in the dark, a watcher in the night… or is it just the wind?

The Rating:
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (Mature themes, sexual content, and course language)

Do you ever feel like you are being watched. Your head whirls around, the shadows creep toward you, your heart beats louder, rising in your chest, but you see no one: no pair of eyes from within that darkened veil of night, no watcher in the shadows. How foolish you feel, how silly, but the paranoia mounts until you reach the comfort of your home. Only then, does the fear subside… mostly. That house of your, that home, that haven of safety still has windows, those panes of glass like two-way eyes in the darkness which cloaks the sky, and your house, in an invisible haze.

If you have ever felt like this, you have felt like Nichole (the protagonist) who is stalked by the Night Watcher… or is it just her imagination?

The Good:

Night Watcher is a crime mystery. Think, police procedural, but then forget that you ever thought that. Chris Longmuir pulls the reader into the lives of her characters, and there is almost more about the people involved than the mystery itself. The point-of-view jumps around like a happy-go-lucky rabbit, but this is not a bad thing. Often lots of POV changes can leave the reader confused or uninterested, however, Longmuir seems to have a knack for it. By jumping between characters, the reader gets a chance to be inside the head of almost every character involved. This works well because the scenes are short and to the point, keeping things moving so that one character POV is not left hanging for too long. The internal thought processes mixed with a hopping POV give this book a great flow, as well as developing the characters well.

There are just enough back-story-reveals to round out the characters, keeping the reader interested in what is going on. Often with mystery novels, the author holds things back to let the suspense build. Longmuir takes the completely opposite approach. The reader gets to experience the unfolding story though the eyes of victim, police, lover, friend, enemy, villain, and much more. Instead of not knowing what is going on, Longmuir open up the mystery for the reader, while still allowing the villainous moments to be just as thrilling. The “night watcher,” for which the book is named, gets his time in the lime light, but his curious ways are still shrouded in enough mystery to keep things interesting. The night watcher’s POV moments were not over-powering, but delightfully speckled throughout, building suspenseful/dark moments into otherwise dramatic events.

The Bad:

After finishing this book, I am surprised at its length. It gives the reader that poppy teen feeling, which often will translate into a shorter book. Night Watcher is not incredibly long, but it runs over 300 pages. Though it is packed full of characters and plot, there is not a whole lot of writing to go with it. Every now and again, the reader is struck by a wonderfully crafted scene, but for the most part I found the writing a little dry and lacking flavour. The story and characters hold potential, but it is sadly unrealised.

The book moves quickly, but not necessarily because of what is happening. There are brief what-is-going-to-happen-next moments, but mostly it is a story about a bunch of characters living out their lives: going to work, going home, and fighting with their spouse (yes there is lots of drama in this book). Though a fast pace can be good, sometimes I felt like the book moved a little too fast, not letting me stop and breathe in the scene. The pacing is artificially inflated with a lack of words instead of artfully enhanced through flavourful description. Such lack leads to a lack of emotion within the scenes, thus a lack of connection with the characters.

Most scenes lack description of any kind, and the ones that do have description are few and far between. The characters spend most of their time talking to each other, or talking to themselves. Though this is delightful, it lacks scene/emotion building. As a reader, I felt like an innocent bystander, watching events unfold, instead of being drawn into the story.

POV changes to minor characters adds flavour, but the reader isn’t given enough time to actually get to know/care about them. Though the POV changes inform the reader about some of the other characters and the struggles they are having at home/at work, it comes across as unfocused. Many of the POVs were well done, but a number of them added little or nothing and could have been left out entirely, approaching the scenes from a different angle to enhance the flavour.

Conclusion:

Night Watcher is wonderful for the reader who likes crime mysteries and lots of drama. It is packed full of characters and the story is wonderfully crafted. It moves at a fast pace, but sadly lacks the emotional punch that draws a reader in. If you enjoy crime mysteries, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)
Kobo

Journey to Altmortis by Thaddeus White

An Epic Fantasy about a thief’s journey to steal what is rightfully his

The Rating:
Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (moderately coarse language, mild sexual-content/mature situations & violence)

If you are Canadian, like myself, we have just come out the other end of Thanksgiving. If you are American, the holiday will soon be upon you. While I was sitting in ridiculous holiday traffic on the highway, en-route to meet family for too much turkey and pie, my mind wandered into those far reaching spaces were imagination comes alive. I was thinking back to my most recent read, Journey to Altmortis, and considering what to put it my review. Though I was not journeying to Altmortis, I felt it would be appropriate to compare my recent journeys with that of Thaddeus White’s creation.

 

 

 

I went on a journey to acquire lots of free food.
– Thaddeus went on a journey to acquire something originally stolen from him.
I had to fight with traffic to get there.
– Thaddeus had to fight with… other things to get there.
I was travelling with my family
– Thaddeus was travelling with family (his sister) as well as some hired help.

Okay, so there are little to no similarities between our journeys, but wasn’t this a creative way to start a review? Thaddeus is journeying to Altmortis, a dead city where untold treasure and dangers abound. His goal is to retrieve a family heirloom that may have more than just sentimental value going for it. I was just journeying for some Thanksgiving dinner… but I guess that’s the closest my life gets to a quest of epic fantasy proportions.

The Good:

The book starts out wonderfully. Right from the first chapter, the characters drew me in, to the point where I knew a plot would develop, but no matter what the characters went through, I could see myself enjoying questing vicariously through the words of Thaddeus White. The characters are well-balances and play off of each other nicely. The banter between them is both hilarious and enlightening as character development is concerned. Here is a short snippet that I find particularly amusing:

“What were you doing last night, mon ami?” Pretty Pierre asked. The Felarian’s nickname was ironic. Flames had devoured his left ear, puckered his left cheek and inflicted twisted scars upon half his skull.

“Killing my sister.” He accepted Pierre’s helping hand and got to his feet. “An unpleasant dream indeed.”

“Your sister, despite being dead, is enjoying dinner downstairs. It is quite late, but she suggested we let you sleep in.”

“And our diminutive friend?” Roger the Goat was notorious for many things, but his skill at picking locks and his short stature had persuaded Thaddeus it would be useful to bring him along. The ruins of Altmortis were likely to offer plenty of small spaces into which the thieving dwarf might squeeze.

Pierre shrugged. “Thieving, whoring, picking pockets.”

Thaddeus grinned. “Making himself at home then.”

As expected, this is a story about a journey. There is not a lot of development before the characters are off on their quest, but as the story progresses, the continual character development and back-story reveals hold the reader’s interest. The characters and their development are, by far, the selling feature of this book.

Not only are the characters well-done, but White has a way of crafting a scene through vivid imagery that makes his writing come alive. I can say it no better than White himself, hence thus I quote:

“The salty spray was deliciously cold on his skin. The chill wind pierced his cloak and turned his skin a bloodless white. Gusts billowed his cloak and rain lashed him, and Amoux Broussard loved every moment of it.”

This is but one of many moments during the long Journey to Altmortis that I felt the need to stop and sigh, or smile at the wonderful crafting of words. I cannot and will not ruin all of these precious moments for you. All of the magic therein can only be experienced by reading this work of art, devouring the words spilling from the mind, heart, and fingers of Thaddeus White.

Point-of-view changes can often be poorly done, but, though White implements many different POVs, none of them felt sloppy. In fact, the POV changes between party members were so seamlessly implemented that the reader hardly notices them at all. With point-of-view changes comes further understanding, flavour, and believability to every character, thus enhancing the relatability of the reader to the characters immensely. The POV bounces around some, but because it mostly stays within the party that the reader has been previously introduced to, nothing ever gets confusing or muddied. Instead the reader gets treated to following this Journey to Altmortis through a variety of character’s eyes.

The Bad:

There is explanation and character reveals throughout, and the book starts off strong, but I would have liked to see more introduction before the journey. There is not a lot of meat before the reader is thrown into the main plot, travelling toward the dead city of Altmortis, without really knowing who is travelling. The introduction to the characters that is there is quite well done, but unfortunately it just touches the tip of the iceberg. I wasn’t really sure why exactly this group was travelling together, what motivated them, what was so important about Altmortis and the family heirloom they were searching for until about half way through the book. More initial development of the characters outside of the main quest would have enhanced the journey, making the reader understand more of what is going on and why, instead of just being thrown right in.

Though the POV changes are internal, making them easier to follow, because of the lack of character introductions, I often found myself confused as to who was who. There are a fair number of characters introduced all at once, and though they all have their own little quirks and reasons for tagging along, this was thrown on the back-burner, almost as if White assumed that his readers would know who the characters are. Bear in mind, that I have not read White’s other book in the same world. The author stated that there is some cross-over, but it is not imperative for one to read Bane of Souls (his first book) before Journey to Altmortis. I can guess (depending on the character cross-over in Bane of Souls) that reading the first book previously to picking up the Journey might nullify this complaint, but take such surmising for what they are (opinion without any knowledge of potential rectification). Suffice it to say, as a stand-alone book, the character introduction leave much to be desired, leaving the reader confused at times and uninterested at others because of this fault.

White uses a lot of passive voice, and it seems to be his writing style. It blends fairly well with the more active sections, but fleshing out these scenes instead of just stating the facts and pressing on would have increased the enjoyability of this book as a whole. I found the ending, in particular, to be very fast-tracked with rampant use of passive voice. It was almost as if the whole book was about the Journey to Altmortis (go figure 😉 ) but the return journey was so unimportant that it was barely mentioned.

Conclusion:

Journey to Altmortis will take readers on a journey through the mind and words of Thaddeus White. Along the way, the reader is exposed to humorous characters, witty banter, and some sections of beautiful prose that make the world more alive. Clever use of point-of-view makes the characters the reader travels with more well-rounded, though the initial introduction of them may lack some meat. If you are a fan of epic fantasy and journeying through a strange and magical land, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Diesel
Kobo
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Streets of Payne by Jeff Brackett

A sci-fi mystery filled with Payne

The Rating:
Mature-content Rating: (PG for coarse language and violence)

Eyes: those things we take for granted. Everything around us is processed and managed by them, but we don’t often think about how much work they actually do for us. What would you do without your eyes? If you ask Amber Payne this question, she would say, “just get cybernetic implants, of course.” Amber does not live in a world like our. The Streets of Payne are full of cybernetically enhanced cops and criminals alike.

The Good:

In the opening pages of Streets of Payne, we find Amber getting ready for work, when all of a sudden, her and the reader are thrown right into the action. There is just enough scene setting to get a feel for what is going on before adrenaline is pushed into the pages. Jeff Brackett uses the action to further develop the world that Payne lives in and explain some of a the cybernetic tech while engaging the reader in the story. The engagement continues as Amber Payne faces difficulties throughout the book, the action scenes keeps the pages flying by.

I found that the pacing was quite well done. There is enough down-time between the action of being in the line of duty that both Amber Payne and the reader get a breather. While the plot develops, new characters (good and bad) are introduced and the world the reader gets thrown into is more fully explored.

Jeff Brackett includes a lot of cyberspace interaction in Streets of Payne. Amber Payne’s partner (Kevin Glass) is an “elite cyber-surfer.” This doesn’t simply mean that he is good with computers and that is that. Jeff Brackett lets the reader “jack in” to cyberspace from the perspective of Kevin Glass, opening the doors to a whole new reality that effects the physical word in real and tangible ways. Cyberspace is so involved that it comes into play in everything from simple data recovery to actively effecting the outcome of a fight.

The Bad:

I absolutely loved how cyberspace effected the world. This, to me, was the best and most intriguing part of the book. However, there is still a dirty cloud beneath that silver lining. Cyberspace integration adds some magic to a lot of the action sequences, sometimes to their detriment. Some of the fights scenes are portrayed from Amber Payne’s physical reality, yet at the same time from the perspective of Kevin Glass while he sifts through cyberspace. Though there was magic in this, it often took away from the fast-pacing which is desired in action scenes. It took a lot longer to get from one end of the fight to the next because of the strange POV changes, trying to show the same encounter from two different perspectives at the same time.

The Streets of Payne are not all roses. Some pretty awful things happen along the way, and I really wanted to feel bad for Amber and Kevin, but found no motivation to do so. Based on the book blurb I expected there to be a lot more character development. “Cybernetic implants replaced the organics she lost in the line of duty, and their appearance often causes Amber to doubt her self-worth.” This single sentence in the blurb tells the reader just as much about Amber’s internal self-worth struggles as the whole book does. Yes, she has struggles, but I never felt them. The struggles were mentioned, and there is even some clever use of dreams in an attempt to build back-story, but there was not enough development to make it believable and valuable. This, by far, was the biggest downfall in Streets of Payne.

Conclusion:

Streets of Payne was not a bad book, but I wouldn’t say it was good either. It is worth a read, to be sure, but nothing stood out as spectacular. It was, in a word, average. A lack of well crafted prose, developed characters, and a few disorienting POV problems leave this book in the middle of the road. The plot was good, and it had excellent concepts and tech implementation, but there isn’t much else going for it. If you like action with a touch of mystery, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)