Review: All These Shiny Worlds

All These Shiny Worlds anthology, edited by Jefferson Smith

Genre: Sci-fi and Fantasy

Rating: 4-stars

Anthologies are tricky to rate, because there are good stories and there are not so good stories.

This anthology proclaims to include the best of the best indie authors… first the authors have to survive the 40 minute Immerse or Die challenge, then they have to do well on a full read through, then authors are asked if they would like to submit a short story to the anthology, then the stories are judged by a panel of three judges. Also, authors who get invited are given the chance to invite one other author. The anthology is free, with the idea that after showcasing their work in the anthology, readers will find new readers to follow. I really like that, and overall this anthology was quite good. That said, I didn’t like every single story, and I had low hopes after reading the first one…

1 First Man in the World – 2 stars – People who like traditional sci-fi might enjoy this, but for me it lacked any sense of humanity or struggle. Just a vague how-to terraform a planet. Not my cup of tea.

2 Three Demon Gambit – 4 stars – I enjoyed the twists and turns in this story, even though I didn’t like the protagonist, a student in a school of magic. Dealing with demons and rival students was interesting.

3 Rolling the Bones – 4 stars – disturbing use of necromancy, found it difficult to parse the characters at first, but once I figured out the king and wizard were two different people, it flowed well and I enjoyed following the protagonist through his difficult choices surrounding the morality of using necromancy to preserve the peace.

4 All the Way – 4 stars – A future where dying people can upload themselves to robots and work in space. Quite a human story, however, and I felt quite bad for the robot’s ex-wife.

5 Scales Fall – 4 stars – I’m not even sure if I fully understood this story, with how it jumped around in time, but I enjoyed it a lot. It all felt so familiar, possibly because I read a lot of ancient Egyptian stuff as a kid.

6 The Ant Tower – 5 stars – Here was a story I didn’t want to end. The shifting in time with each scene took some getting used to, but the story was excellent. By far my favorite up to this point. With plenty of twists and turns, this trek through the desert didn’t end the way I thought it would. I want to read more from this author.

7 Heft – 3 stars – I found this spy story with a twist rough at first, and I’m not sure I fully got the ending. I think I did, but the uncertainty left me feeling unsure how to rate this one. I was left with the feeling that there was something clever that happened, but it wasn’t explained enough for me to understand in its entirety. Maybe if I read it a second time, but it wasn’t a story I enjoyed enough to do that with. The philosophy behind it was some next-level stuff that isn’t too hard to imagine actually happening, though.

8 The First Acolyte of the Upshan Berental – 5 stars – A story of being true to yourself, even in the face of disapproving authority. I enjoyed the theme, and also want to see all the worlds.

9 Bronwen’s Dowry – 5 stars – This story of a poor shearer and his wife going to a gathering of pipers was genuinely moving. I loved this one.

10 The Spider and the Darkness – 5 stars – This fantasy tale involving an abused girl seeking to escape her lot in life was fantastic.

11 The Dowager’s Largesse – 5 stars – I already bought the next story in this series because I loved it so much. Who doesn’t love the sound of a cursed bounty hunter with a belligerent llama companion?

12 Theriac – 4 stars – A woman who sees demons (maybe? The way others brush off her concerns makes me wonder…) is confronted with the not so difficult decision of what to do about some half-demon children. As written, it’s 3 stars, except that it had me thinking about it afterwards, wondering what the truth of the matter is, so it got an extra star.

13 The Red Flame of Death – 3 stars – This story about a holy man hunting a demon was okay. The pacing and writing were fine, but in the end I didn’t really care how it ended, because the characters were flat.

14 The Blue Breeze – 4 stars – While certainly the most imaginative of the bunch, creating a rich and dangerous world, the elements of the plot felt quite familiar. A forbidden love story, mingled with the thought, “There’s always a bigger fish.”

15 The Rakam – no rating – First person present tense? Ugh. I have other things I want to read, and after struggling through the first paragraph I said, “Forget it.” I won’t count this one toward the average rating, because I couldn’t give it a fair chance.

Review: Black Market

Black Market, by Alexis Blakely

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars

This is one of those stories you can just sit back and enjoy… let it wash over you. The pacing is quick, the read easy, with just a few missing/added words sprinkled throughout but no major errors jumping out of the page.

Alex finds herself in a mess again, investigating the murders of old men… but nothing is as it seems. There weren’t a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, but the story was still entertaining. Teaming up with Chase, her best friend and thief, they need to call in some favours to try to figure out what’s going on. Be prepared to hear how a witch and a mage are different, repeatedly. And I don’t mean that you’ll learn a new facet of how they’re different, I mean you’ll hear how witches are slow and mages are fast several times throughout the course of the story, just in case you forgot.

I enjoyed the three sets of “villains” in the story. And I mean that I really hated one group, and the other two were sort of popcorn villains, so big and bad that they’re almost funny.

The end of the story was really worth reading the whole book for. Some mind-bending stuff goes on, and it’s satisfying. I will likely pick up the third book in the series.

 

There’s an announcement coming later this month, but I’m changing gears with the blog. It’ll be mostly reviews from here on out. If you would like me to review your book, please don’t send it to me. Just let me know about it and I’ll check it out. If it looks like something I’d be interested in (action, adventure, intrigue, fast paced, non-erotic/romance) then I’ll probably pick it up and give it a whirl. I don’t rate books that I can’t finish, because I don’t think it’s fair to judge a book I didn’t get through. If your book hasn’t seen an editor, odds are I won’t read it.

Review: The Road

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Post-apocalyptic
Rating: 4-stars
My aunt sent me a copy of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and I finally got around to cracking it open a couple weeks ago.
It… took me a bit to get into. I didn’t like the extremely slow start. The way he chose to write the dialogue isn’t to my taste. And everything was so bleak… something I’m not really in the mood for often anymore, given the current state of the world.
Yet I found myself getting drawn into the story of the man and his son. I found myself caring about these nameless characters, and wishing they could find SOME bright hope in a dying, scorched world.
And I cried at the end of it.
I think the father-child bond was what did it for me. I kept trying to imagine myself in such a dire situation, watching my own children slowly wasting away, and it hit me right in the amygdala. It’s a parent’s worst fear.
And I loved how gentle he was with his son, even as he taught him hard truths of the world, or his son figured them out for himself. He took ownership when things went wrong, and realized that when his son did something incorrect, it was his own fault for not double checking things, or teaching his son how to do it properly.
If you can get used to the style of the writing, the book will grab you and not let go until the very end. If you’re a dad who loves your child(ren) fiercely, this won’t be an easy book to read, but there are some great lessons in the darkness.

Review: Scoundrels anthology

Scoundrels anthology, published by Bushmead Publishing

Genre: A mix of sci-fi and fantasy

Rating: Average of 4 stars over 7 stories, ranging from 2 to 5 stars

 

Miniature You, poem by Linda G. Hill, 4 stars

I’m not usually much of a poetry fan, but I rather enjoyed this one. It starts off as a pleasant sort of thing, and turns pretty dark by the end.

Oceanitides, short story by Laura Johnson, 4 stars

This was written well enough. I liked the Greek feeling of the half-siblings competing for an ancient relic. The twist ending fell kind of flat for me, and nothing stood out to make me say “Wow! That was 5 stars!” But it was enjoyable.

Ties That Lie, novella by Tiffany Woodbeck, 2 stars

There was a lot I didn’t like in this one. There were at least three words used incorrectly (gilding refers to gold, not silver; massive usually refers to something with mass… so a royal garden doesn’t fit the bill; cacophony isn’t one person raising their voice to argue a point, it’s a lot of discordant noises mixing together. Massive I can let slide, because I’ve seen it used this way many times, but the other two really bugged me). The phrasing throughout was bizarre. For instance, at the start of the story every person was described by their hair… and that hair was given such a lifelike quality, I almost expected the various heads of hair to pop off the people and start having interactions of their own. Mien is a fine word maybe once or twice in a story this length, but was overused here. And the “smoothing of skirts” gave me PTSD flashbacks of The Wheel of Time series. Also, so many pursed lips.

In fact, the emotion was so wooden I was fairly certain the main character was a sociopath or psychopath (which would’ve been fine, because it’s a book about Scoundrels, after all). The way she “allowed” her tears to flow at some point made what should have been real sorrow feel like she was forcing it. And then I almost laughed when her betrothed said she was very emotional, because I had seen NO evidence of this. I was figuring at that point that she had somehow fooled him into believing she was emotional, despite the fact that she’s constantly stone-faced. It was all so at odds with itself that I felt baffled when she actually broke down crying later in the story… and just realized that the emotions were poorly written, earlier. It’s the old “show, don’t tell” and I hadn’t been shown that she was emotional. At all.

There were no real twists in the story to try to save it at the end. At least, none that I cared about, as a reader. And I think this calls back to the lack of emotion and caring about the character.

Cuthburt and Crowe, novella by Drew Carmody, 3 stars

I found this story distracting for a couple reason. 1) Run on sentences. I counted 4 “ands” tying together one sentence that just never seemed to end. 2) Incorrect punctuation. When a sentence is spoken, there’s a comma that connects what’s in the quotes with the tag if the tag is directly related to the speaking. For instance, from the fifth paragraph: “Oh, don’t be such a damn stick in the bog, Crowe.” Cuthbert said with a grin, “Yeah, I’d get the princess…”

That’s all backwards. There should be a comma after Crowe, and then a period after grin. This happened repeatedly through this story and bothered me every single time.

3) It was fairly common for words to be missing letters. 4) A super-minor formatting error on the first page made me check the previous story to see what the paragraph indents were, because they looked too large (and they were). But it was only on the first page, so I’m not sure what happened there. I noticed it before I started reading, so it’s not like it pulled me out of the story or anything. Just an oddity. 5) “Massive” was so overused I actually took a screenshot to show a friend when it appeared SEVEN TIMES on one page (and again, sometimes used not quite correctly). There are other words.

All together, it felt like maybe the wrong file was used for this story, because I haven’t seen anything this sloppy in the other stories. It was interesting enough that I still liked it. It felt like a disjointed D&D party (paladin, fighter, rogue, warlock [or necromancer?], mage, and monk), setting up for future adventures.  There were interesting ideas throughout that felt very compartmentalized, like parts of a D&D game. A sort of, “They go here, something interesting happens. They go here, something interesting happens.” etc.

One Last Payday, short story by P.A. Cornell, 5 stars

This sci-fi story was fantastic. A thief gets a job to transport some data from one person to another, and will pay enough for her to finally live her dream and get off world… but there’s a big catch. There’s twists and turns along the way that really captured my imagination. I’d look for more from this author.

From Love to Hatred Turned, short story by Isa Mclaren, 5 stars

Brand made me think of 007 as a roguish art dealer. Suave, intelligent, and one step ahead, he’s a master tactician who knows how to manipulate people. The story was fun and well paced.

The Bridgemaster’s Daughter, short story by John Ryers, 5 stars

I didn’t see the ending of this story coming. Perhaps I should have… the clues were there all along, but I missed putting them together. I love it when that sort of thing happens. With a headstrong female lead, and a charming rogue antagonist, there’s some great, believable banter, and good action.

Dangers of Tensire, novella by Ryan Toxopeus

Come on. I’m not going to review my own story. That’s worse than paying for reviews.

But honestly, I think this anthology is worth picking up just for the three 5-star stories. I plan on looking for more work from those authors.

Review: Jump/Drive by Rich Griffith

Jump/Drive, by Rich Griffith

Genre: YA coming of age set in a suspense/action mix

Rating: 4 stars

Some teenagers find themselves in a great deal of trouble when strange things start happening in their town. Something’s wrong with the water, and their habit of drinking Dr. Pepper saves them from the ill effects. They travel about, trying to figure out what’s going on.

The dialogue is strong, and the story unfolds in such a way that I had a hard time putting the book down. The friendships feel real. I had flashbacks to my own teenage years, the way young boys talk to each other with playful mockery.

In fact, it was such an interesting story that I almost missed the fact that there were errors throughout. Extra/missing words and some other small things tripped me up a few times. Sometimes it got a bit repetitive… like a character would say the same thing twice in a row, as though Griffith changed the way it was said, and forgot to remove one of the lines.

The weakest part of the book was in the descriptions. There were moments of clarity where I could envision where the characters were, but also sometimes where I was kind of drawing a blank. I liked how parkour was used throughout, although at first I found it strange reading about parkour, because it’s such a visual sort of thing.

And something that just always bugs me about books set in modern times is all the pop culture references. Some of them I got, others I didn’t. It always feels to me like if you don’t have all the same interests as the author, you’ll miss stuff that might be funny. But it’s the way a lot of people talk, so it also added to the strength of the authenticity of the dialogue, even if I didn’t get what they were talking about!

But at the heart of this story, there’s a lot of internal and group conflict. These boys have been through a lot in their young lives, and nothing’s neat and tidy for any of them. It’s a book that will challenge your beliefs on victim-hood and survival. For that alone, I highly recommend reading it.

Review: The Pain of Compassion

The Pain of Compassion (Eyes of the Deluti Book 1), by Roland Boykin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5 stars

In ages past, immortal beings called Deluti battled for dominance. However, when it came down to it, the good brother could not kill the evil one, and both went into hiding. Time passed, and the ancient beings became myth and the age of humanity came into being.

But now the Deluti are coming back, merging somehow with the humans (not explained in this book), to battle the evil brother’s sinister forces once more.

The story splits between three main arcs, for Navon, Sophia, and Emma/Sebastion, with the odd minor scene thrown in. There were a lot of characters, and I found myself completely forgetting some of them, especially Navon’s family. When we caught up with them later in the book, I drew a blank on the names. The switch to referring to the Duke by his first name late in the book threw me for a loop, and it was several paragraphs before I realized whose head I was in.

While there was a lot of time spent with the main characters, most of the others felt completely unimportant to the story – like they were put there to have a line or two of dialogue to tell the main character something, and then move on. And that’s what the conversations were, most of the time – a few sparse lines to tell you what you needed to know, making the direction of the story obvious before it moved forward. Even at climactic points, I found myself wishing they’d get into more of a discussion, but when a main character spoke, others acquiesced without challenge. It happened several times where a character would glean a piece of information in one scene, and then in the next it was used, limiting the suspense and making things feel a little too convenient. Even when something bad happened, it was reversed almost immediately, to the point that it all felt too easy. The, “I’m enraged and break things with magic! Oh, everything’s okay now, so I’ll just fix it with magic.” theme got a little tired.

I loved the world, the setting, the ideas, and the pacing (for the most part – sometimes it felt too fast, and I’m a fan of a faster pace!). But I felt like the characters could have come to life more with deeper conversations, more meaningful interactions, and real challenges. That said, I’m sure I’ll read the sequel when it comes out, to see what happens with the Deluti-humans next! With how powerful they are at the end of this book, I expect they’ll break the world in the next story (and then probably immediately fix it). Honestly, unless some Deluti-humans show up who are on the other side of the conflict, I expect this will be a cake walk for the main characters, since even untrained they’re far more powerful than anyone else. Still, it was a fun, relaxing read.

Review: Granny Gangs

Granny Gangs, by Tyler Omichinski and Allen Ribo

Genre: Comedy comic book

Rating: 4 stars

There’s a turf war going on in a retired living community. Residents battle over who sells their baked goods.

Despite having a specialization in gerontology and being keenly aware of stereotypes about older adults, I really wanted to check this out. The description in the shop may talk about arthritic hands, but the comic itself is actually empowering, showing spry older ladies sprinting about and attacking each other over their pies. The art is extremely simple – to the point I had difficulty telling what was going on in a couple frames – but I enjoyed the concept and look forward to the next installment. And don’t close the file after reading the comic, because there are letters to the editor at the end that are funny, too!

Reviews: Arizona, and Broken Souls

Yes, today is a two-for-one deal! Both of these short stories by Roland Boykin were available through Kindle Unlimited (KU), which allows you to read as many titles as you want for a monthly subscription. I had a free month with my

Kindle Paperwhite, and finally got around to using it. While I think I got my $10’s worth and then some, I won’t be continuing on with the service because a) not all the books I want to read are available through KU, b) I get free books through BookBub from time to time, c) I like to beta read, which would eat into my limited reading time, d) I’m a slow reader so I don’t anticipate I’d get my money’s worth every month. In fact, I put a call out to Google Plus, seeking authors who had shorter works that I could access through KU, specifically so I could burn through as many short stories and novellas as possible before the subscription ran out. If I were to read full length novels, I wouldn’t get my money’s worth. However, if you’re a quicker reader than I am, you might find the service useful. The last several books I’ve reviewed I got through KU this month, so you could start there and be quite pleased! (Also, my own titles are all available through KU, if you please)

ARIZONA, by Roland Boykin

Genre: Fantasy romance

Rating: 4 stars

A cattle herder has a near-death experience and becomes infatuated with the ocean and one of its inhabitants in the process. Set in the USA, this story has a definite fantasy element to it. Perhaps because it’s a short story made up of several short snippets of time, the romance aspect is a bit abstract. The cattle herder’s love interest is so alien that it’s hard to comprehend her feelings, and their relationship is made up of such brief moments it’s difficult to put myself in the herder’s head-space, too. That said, the story was well written, and it got the gears in my head spinning, although I thought romances were supposed to get your heart pumping! Either way, I’m glad I read this one. I can appreciate the mashup of fantasy and western!

Broken Souls, by Roland Boykin

Genre: Romance

Rating: 5 stars

Crystal is a great grandmother who runs a bookstore. She raised her son on her own, after losing her lover to war. Now she’s on the brink of losing her shop as business has been too quiet. When she has a turn in her fortunes, it’s not just her shop that prospers, but life offers her another chance at love.

Unlike the first story which I found interesting on an intellectual level, this story pulled at my heart strings. The characterizations were excellent, the emotions and situations real. My wife doesn’t like reading on devices, but I’m sure this is a story she’d enjoy, so I’m going to let her use my Kindle to try it out. If you enjoy romance stories, I’d suggest giving this one a read.

Review: A Handful of Dust

A Handful of Dust: Tales of Post-Apocalyptic Kentuckiana, by Jeff Ford

Genre: Post-apocalyptic

Rating: 4-stars

Biological warfare wiped out almost all of humanity, and these short stories chronicle some of the aftermath.

Each story was unique and evocative. I think my favourite was “Sam,” because I was kept guessing until the very end. I’d thought it was going to go all Shaun of the Dead on me, but it didn’t (I won’t spoil it, though!).

Also, every story had a satisfying ending – that’s not to say happy. It’s an apocalypse. But they wrapped up nicely and showed a wide range of trauma that people went through.

While I enjoyed the entire collection, the stories were littered with minor errors – spelling, added/missing/incorrect words, typos, punctuation – but were not enough to make me want to stop reading. Just a short pause, an, “I think he meant X,” and moving on. I did my usual thing I do with indie authors in offering to point out these sorts of errors, but was told the story already went through an editor, so I didn’t take out my notepad for the last three stories. Thus, I’ll check a sample in future works to make sure more care is put into it, especially if it’s a longer novel, because a longer book with an error on every page or two would wear on me.

All in all, a quick, entertaining read that builds up a world that I look forward to seeing more of from this author.

Review: Excelsior

Excelsior: Book 1 of the New Frontiers Series, by Jasper T. Scott

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4 stars

Hundreds of years in the future, the Alliance (western countries) and Confederacy (eastern countries) have an uneasy truce. The Alliance is capitalist, the Confederacy is socialist, which gives you the feeling right out of the gate that you know how this is going to turn out, with the Alliance being the stalwart heroes, and the Confederacy being the hive-mind bad guys. Their truce is about to come undone with the discovery of a wormhole. When the Alliance refuses to share the discovery, World War III breaks out while Captain Alexander and his crew make haste to escape through the wormhole to whatever waits on the other side.

First off, if I remember right, this book is set in the 2700’s, so you have to suspend your disbelief for a moment that there hasn’t been a world war between now and then. I find that to be unlikely, even moreso after the US election that just took place.

There was really only one thing that bothered me with this book, and it’s not that major – it’s that the Captain at times seems perfectly comfortable in his role, and sometimes acts like he’s never done anything in space before. When he accidentally tosses all his belongings all over his room because of zero G, I was left wondering, “How are you a Captain of a military space ship, and don’t know how to act in zero G?” There were a few instances where I felt like the Captain was a rookie, despite having 10 years of experience in the navy.

That hiccup aside, the story is quite good. There were times I wished he didn’t explore other POVs to heighten the tension, and keep the reader wondering what was really going on.

The sense that something is wrong with everything after entering the wormhole is pervasive. Although the love story was predictable, the rest of the twists and turns made it so I couldn’t guess what was going to happen next with the main plot.

The ending of the story is satisfying, which is a big thing for me. I don’t feel pressure to jump into book 2 straight away. However, the teaser for the second book in the series was pretty good, and I’ll probably pick it up at some point to continue reading.