And Then We Vanish by D H Schleicher

3.5/5 Stars – Short story collection from a talented writer.

For someone who does not care much for short story collections, I have read three in the past year courtesy of the #indiebookclub book of the month selection. I have to say I have enjoyed them with mixed results and this offering by D H Schleicher sits neatly in the middle of the other two.

I feel conflicted about this book. First and foremost, I enjoyed the writing style. The author conveys his tales in an easy way, nuanced and effortless, by which I mean the stories are all very engaging in the telling which flowed and carried me right along with it. Until they didn’t.

Forest Gump’s mother said it best ‘Life is a box of chocolates’ and that for me is the issue with this book. I was never sure what I was going to get, I just knew that whatever it was I liked it only then it was over, done, finished, time to move on to the next story.

It was like I’d ordered a lovely steak and had taken a few mouthfuls when the waiter suddenly pops up and clears the table and hands me the dessert menu. Sorry, those that read my reviews know I like a good food analogy! I have no excuses this time having eaten at the time of writing.

So what do I mean? I mean that I loved a few of the stories, others not so much. The writing was great and I was invested, but all too often a tale just finished. They felt incomplete, a chapter out of chapters. I even read one twice in case I had missed something. But no. That was it. In more cases than not, I was left thinking to myself, ‘what that’s it? What was the point of it?’

It is a great pity that I felt this way, and I say that because hey, I was hooked. I was ready to read more. To find out what was going to happen next but it was like someone had torn a book in half, read the first part only to be disappointed there was no second part. That pretty much sums it up for me.

I wish I could say otherwise. I do think there are some gems in the book that could be expanded into a novella or even a novel and I would read them.  Special mention in this regard goes to ‘The Pumpkin Thief’ and ‘Night of the Spider’ the first and last.

As ever, reading is subjective and this is just my take on this book. The writing quality is there on display and in that regard, you are in safe hands. It’s just well what I said already.

Teslanauts by Mathew Donald

4/5 Stars, Fast-Paced, Alternate History with a Steam Punk Vibe

Disclaimer: I was given a free ARC (advanced readers copy) of this book pre-release in exchange for an honest review.

It seemed to me from the first chapter of this book that its target audience is MG/YA and I have reviewed it as such – although, to be honest, it has been a long time since I was either of those!

Without giving the story away I will paint you a picture (but with words obviously, I meant in your mind! ‘Shakes head ruefully’).

Our story is set a few years after the Great War, the war to end all wars, which was clearly mis-labelled since the 1st World War was neither of those things. It begins in New York with our 17-year-old protagonist Raymond Calvert an avid studier of all things electromagnetic in the hopes it will give him some clue into his father’s mysterious disappearance. You see, his father was a top-level scientist working on some sort of new technology and it is Raymond’s mission to find him. The blueprints and papers his father left behind are the only clues to follow.

Raymond soon finds himself caught up in a strange new world, a secret one of technology that exists right within the mundane everyday world of the masses. So begins a great adventure, where Raymond sees and experiences the wonders of electromagnetic technologies. Machines and automatons far in advance of anything the world is supposed to know but through it all, he never loses sight of his goal. Finding his father.

Although the story is set in an alternate history kind of way and with ‘electro-magnetism’ as its magic, it had a steampunk vibe to it. Great machines and dirigibles with outlandish weapons how could it not?

It all sounds very exciting and the story moves along at a breakneck speed that is dizzying at times. The action is frenetic and the technology is so advanced it feels like magic. Along the way, Raymond makes many new friends and enemies.

So, with my adult head on did I enjoy this story? Errmmm, not so much. I found it all rather too hyperactive and tumultuous for my taste, the technology wondrously outrageous and unbelievable. Things grated on me, the battle scenes played out as if everyone was miked up and they could all talk and hear each other, good guys and bad guys, even though massive automatons were clashing and bashing, or one character flying a plane and swooping down calling out and being heard clear as day by people on the ground.

There was a lot of contrivance in the story, some to create drama to add some kind of emotional depth that never really worked, others to affect miraculous rescues and heroic escapes that all felt a little artificial. Things happened that I found myself saying, no way! No way would that not be seen and known about. At one point a whole town is demolished and yet the world trundles on oblivious thanks to a ‘men in black’(esc) look into this light-type carry-on. That doesn’t work on infrastructure. I think for me that was one of my biggest bugbears.

However, this book was not written for me. I am not the demographic looked for, although that is not to say others of my ‘generation’ wouldn’t like a light-hearted escape. It is meant for a twelve-year-old me. At that age, I think I would have not asked so many questions just enjoyed the ride and on that front, whilst there is plenty of action and adventure, the book was not overtly graphic in its narrative. There is no swearing, no blood or gore. The viciousness and brutality of the fighting are peripheral at best.

I think if I am being brutally honest, adult me would probably not have finished this book if I was not doing an ARC review and I would rate it a 3/5, however, a 12-year-old me would have enjoyed it far more and rated it a 4/5.

Terminus Fringe Worlds #1 by Kevin Hardman

3.5/5 Stars – A Space Marine Adventure

So I was trawling for my next read and fancied a military Sci-fi and Terminus popped up on my feed. Was it fate, destiny calling? Errr no, it was Amazon analytics. Why not, I thought, it’s got an armoured cyborg man dual wielding assault rifles whilst the world burns on the cover. Yep, as shallow as that I picked it up. I wanted a Diehard esc action set in the future and this would do nicely.

I guess I got some of what I asked for. Arrogant Maker our protagonist is a disgraced former special-ops marine living a peaceful life on an out-of-the-way planet minding his own business with no one but an alien called Erlen for company, which is not his pet, though everyone seems to think it is.

Into his world steps a former commander a doctor and a politician (No this is not the start of a joke). It seems they need him for a mission and he is the only man for the job. This reminded me in a small way of Aliens. You know, that scene where Ripley tells them about the alien and the world they found it on and the powers that be ignored her warnings before dragging her ass in to fix it years later when it all went a bit scooby-do, that one.

I won’t give too much of the story away, suffice to say it gets a bit Dirty Dozen (although it is more half-dozen to be accurate). Maker of course gets tempted back in, he is a soldier at heart and this is his chance to step back into the ring, so to speak. He cobbles together a team of misfits like him who struggle to fit into the military machine and after the shortest of introductions they are off, time is of the essence you see.

There are lots of guns and action. An evil alien race, led by a sinister alien commander with high-tech weaponry. Things are not always what they seem, however, and it is quickly apparent that the only people Maker and his team can trust are themselves.

I thought the story was okay but it never gripped me as I wanted it to. The science was pretty loose (that is being generous) but I wasn’t reading it for that and it wasn’t the type of story to bog itself down in scientific jargon or exposition. The depiction of the military was also simplistic and the act spent at the military base felt a bit more like boarding school than it did an actual military camp. That said the writing itself was fine, the story moved along at a fast pace and the descriptive narrative flowed well and I was able to picture each scene easily. The opening scenes I was not a fan of though where Maker recounted the mission that got him booted out of the military to a couple of people he didn’t know. It was a clever way in some respects of providing perspective and a back story for our hero but it was, for me, a little cumbersome.

Overall, the story was a bit formulaic and predictable. Our marines felt more like a bunch of mercenaries than a military unit. Maker did his own thing and half the time so did the rest of his unit. The bad guy was a bit of a cardboard cut-out. I think a scene from his perspective doing something sinister and evil would have cemented his badassery more in my head and make me care about Maker bringing him down. There is more I could say but it would give spoilers. I think as an opening novel in a series of ‘space marine’ adventures it was okay. It is suitable for YA readers and may indeed be targeted more at that audience but it did not give me enough to want to read the next in the series.    

Primal Hunter by Zogarth

3.5/5 Stars, LitRPG Shenigans that had its moments.

Nice cover. Picked this up through Kindle Unlimited. It was highly reviewed which boded well since I have quite enjoyed my recent flirtations with LitRPG novels.

This story follows a pretty typical LitRPG format of an outsider-misfit, becoming a hero in an alternate dimension. In the case of Primal Hunter, Jake our loner hero, finds himself transported along with a thousand other random and luckless humans into a ‘vast’ multiverse. The story has the start-up and gaming elements of a massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) where everyone gets to choose what sort of class they want to be, from sword & shield warriors, dual blade wielders, mages, healers, and hunters. For anyone that has played an MMORPG this will all seem very familiar. The classes each have different branches that a person can specialise in by levelling up and gaining experience and points, and professions can be learnt like alchemy and tailoring, leatherworking etc.

The story begins with Jake and a bunch of his work colleagues who are mysteriously transported to a magical fantasy world and find themselves in a start-up or beginner area. The penny drops pretty quickly after their first confrontation with the local wildlife, that surviving and getting better means killing anything that moves. Killing things earns experience which they need to level up and using weapons and abilities improves a person’s skill with them the more they are used.

So that is the general premise. Of course, humans being humans it all gets a bit ‘Lord of the Flies’ as some realise killing other humans pays big dividends in the experience stakes. Those most able and more morally questionable take advantage, bullying those less fortunate or capable, building tribes which then go head to head with other tribes.

Jake finds himself built for this world, all his inadequacies on earth mean nothing here but frustrated by his colleagues’ lack of gungho, daring-do, of trying to apply earth rules to this new world ends up with Jake heading out on his own after an altercation with another group goes badly.

I wanted to like this book but as much as the story is fast-paced, I found it also bogged itself down whenever Jake ‘levelled up’ or got new abilities to unlock. Pages and pages of exposition on every ability and why it was not the one for him. This only got worse as the story progressed and I found myself flicking through reams of abilities to get to the last one because invariably that was the one Jake would choose. Some readers may like this but for me, it was a frustration.

Jake did have a moral code of sorts running through him and was the stereotypical hero against all odds, on his own against the rest of the humans. Unfortunately, I did not find myself rooting for Jake. He was so OP (over-powered) and I found him a little hard to like. The story ‘within’ the tribes with the different antagonists all felt a little contrived and shallow. Like how thick are people not to see what was going on? The other component I found difficult to grasp was the escalation of powers. I mean this is a startup/training area but after a couple of days, it certainly didn’t feel like that. It felt like there was too much progression.

All that being said there were some highlights. I liked the undercurrent of hidden gods that played out. Loved the introduction of the Malefic Viper which lifted the story massively for me.

A lot of people have reviewed this book quite high and that is great, we all have different tastes and expectations but I’m afraid it didn’t quite cut it for me. Don’t let that put you off though. As ever if you like the sound of the premise above take a look inside. You’ll know pretty quickly if it is your cup of tea. For me, I find my interest in LitRPG waning, I need to take a break from the genre for a bit. I’m all levelled out.

A D Green’s Fantasy Newsletter June 2022

Hello everyone, it’s been a while and I hope this finds you well. I could almost copy and paste the opening of my last newsletter because it is as relevant an excuse now as it was back then….but that would be highly unprofessional of me!

So what has been happening?

Writing has been slower than I would like but is picking up momentum again thankfully. I am literally down to the last few chapters on Book Three Darkness Resides, tying up some story arcs among other things. I am pleased with how it is going but as ever it will need to go through the editorial wringer once I am done and then out to my beta readers. It might be a year later than I anticipated or expected but I hope to have the book released this year.

By the way, I have one or two spots open still for beta readers for book 3. Take a look at the homepage of my website for more information.  

Check out my website for updates to maps, book news, reviews and other stuff.

Kindle Countdown Deal until 20th– 27th June

Books 1 & 2 of the Morhudrim Cycle are in a Kindle Deal for the UK and US markets. Pick up Rivers Run Red and Darkness Resides for only 0.99 each. Tell your friends.

For those outside those markets, I am deeply sorry – Amazon restricts my Kindle Countdown Deals to just those two markets. If I do a free promo sometime (unlikely in the near future cause I like coffee and free stuff doesn’t buy me a cup!) I will let you all know.

Book Reviews

I will not belabour this too much since you will have already received my blogged reviews in your email. However, here is a recap of books I have read, some of which I have yet to post reviews on.

I have had a bit of a splurge on Fantasy LitRPG the last few months but I have about hit the ceiling on that genre for now. Too much chocolate and I need to come done! It all started very promisingly with the ‘He Who Fight’s Monsters’ series which I very much enjoyed. My subsequent dabble though in this sub-genre has been rather more hit and miss.

In my upcoming reads, I hope to include a classic SciFi and move into some more traditional fantasy and science fiction.

Books I have read since March

Everlong by R Raeta (5/5) Paranormal Romance. Reviewed 24th April

The Condom and Other Stories by Peter Chika (4/5) Short story collection. Reviewed 29th May

He Who Fights With Monsters Book One by Shirtaloon (5/5) A LitRPG. Reviewed 6th May

He Who Fights With Monsters Book Two to Five by Shirtaloon (5/5) A LitRPG. Not reviewed and I don’t plan on it since if book one’s review said it all and if that didn’t sway you then nothing else will.

The Plainswalker by M A Rothman (3/5) Another LitRPG reviewed 10th June.

The Primal Hunter by Zogarth (3.5 maybe 4) is a massive LitRPG rated over 3000 times on Amazon for 4.6/5 average rating. I did not rank it so highly. It seemed very Hollywood blockbuster, action ramping up more and more but I felt it was very trope and the characters were rather caricatured and two-dimensional. It was a long read as well and between the action there were pages of exposition on alchemy and what skills to chose from that frankly just dragged. I found myself skipping through pages and pages of the stuff. My review is to follow in the coming weeks.

Barrow King: The Realms Book 1 by C M Carney (4) another LitRPG – Yeah, yeah, okay I know – another LitRPG but this is it… for a while. I am moving on for a bit after this. My review is to follow in the coming weeks.

Until The Next One

Rather an impressive number of books to have read (for me). I have taken to reading more on a night rather than netflix’ing and hanging out on my computer. It’s good to change things up and I have had a lot of fun reading these past months.

For anyone interested my daily writing regimen (when I am not working for a living) is usually review editing for 30-60 minutes of my current chapter then writing for 3 hours. On an evening I might do a bit on Facebook and Twitter for my books but not as much as I use to because it gets little traction, I alos have a bunch of Amazon ads to manage. I would like to do more hours of the former but I have real-life commitments (family/dog you know real things as opposed to imaginary!) but I am grateful I get as much time as I do.

Well with all the crazy stuff going on in the world. The war in Ukraine, the rising cost of living, inflation, interest rates rising, China flexing its economic and territorial muscle oh and I just heard the Auckland Blues lost in the final of the Super Rugby Championship to the Crusaders I recommend you all read a book. Not necessarily mine, but just something that can transport you away from all these troubles – just for a little while.

Until the next one. Stay safe and keep well

A D Green

The Plainswalker by M A Rothman

3/5 Stars, An Inter-Dimensional Fantasy that didn’t quite work for me

This book is described as an epic fantasy LitRPG and so I had high hopes after my recent experience reading ‘He Who Fights With Monsters’ that it would tick those same boxes. Well, it ticked some but not many for me.

I could not see what was epic about this fantasy. Epic to me means in scope and breadth of characters and story, something I think that is hard to pull off when told from the point of view of a single protagonist. It bugs me actually when authors describe their books as epic fantasy, presumably because the word epic appears on Amazon’s search engine like a keyword. Tsk tsk. It does not impress me. Okay, petty rant out of the way onto the book.

The story starts with a reasonable (fantasy/sci-fi) premise whereby our protagonist, Peabo Smith ex-special forces, signs on to a secret government experimental program to project a consciousness through to a different dimension/multiverse and back again.  Of course, it goes horribly wrong and Peabo finds himself in a magical new world, in the body of a Plainswalker, legendary beings that foment great change and are rarely seen in the world. So far so good.

Unfortunately it never really happened for me after that. The characters felt a little two-dimensional. The fight scenes did not grip my imagination and there was little to no jeopardy. The scenes moved along at a great pace, but too much so. I never felt invested in any of the locations or the people that inhabited them. It all just felt a little rushed and convenient and, dare I say it, tropy.

This is the first in a series and yet I didn’t feel any build-up. Peabo kind of kicks butt from the off. The villains, many of whom were ancient and powerful, were underwhelming. There is no lead-up to them, no imagery of who they are or what they can do. They don’t even put up that much of a fight. Almost all of the battles were anti-climactic for me and I never felt Peabo was ever at risk. Then the book ends. Maybe I’ve been spoilt from recent reads, but for an ‘epic’ fantasy this seemed a whirlwind of action then it was over.  

It’s not all bad, the story held promise and the writing is reasonable, M A Rothman can write but it seemed like a mass-produced pulp story churned out rather than a deep and considered fantasy. I am pleased I read this on Kindleunlimited rather than pay the ebook price. For the content and what was delivered, I would have been disappointed.  

I realise this review may appear harsh but I have tried to be balanced and fair. Maybe it is a compatibility issue and this story just did not suit what I was looking for. Judging by number of reviews and the story’s high average rating many people loved this book, unfortunately I was not one of them.

The Condom and Other Stories by Peter Chika

4/5 Stars. An accomplished collection of short stories.

I enjoyed this book of short stories. It is a vignette of life stories from an African perspective that I found thoroughly engaging and fascinating.

I have always told myself I am not much of a fan of short stories but I realise it is more anthologies. The various writing styles in anthologies I find a bit of a lottery. Like a packet of Revell’s, there are some good and some bad but always a coffee in the bag somewhere to be avoided. With this offering from Peter Chika I did not have that worry, I knew from the first story I was in safe hands.  

The writing is accomplished and each tale distinctive and unique. The dialogue and self-reflection of some of the characters I found brilliantly entertaining. There are some great twists as well in many of the stories but also a few that were a bit abrupt. Also, some of the tales I thought were grim rather than humourous and one was an uncomfortable read, at least at the end. That is not a bad thing per se, it is great to be challenged and have to see or think about things through a different prism and that was certainly the case for me. However, someone looking for a light-hearted read will probably find this offering a little darker than they were expecting. 

Overall, an entertaining and thought-provoking read (at least to my sensibilities) and I recommend taking a look inside. The first story is a great showcase with a twist I didn’t see coming and it gives an excellent taster of what else is to come. If you like it you will love this book.

He Who Fights With Monsters: A LitRPG by Shirtaloon

5/5 Stars – If you like to start your books with a naked Aussie then you’re in for a treat.

A friend of a friend sent me a piece posted by some geezer called Shirtaloon (aka Travis Deverell) on how he became a successful writer and I was fascinated by it and found it very interesting. How Shirtaloon serialised his series on Royal Road, built up a following and then on Patreon and finally to Amazon. It also intrigued me, however, because at the end of the day the story has got to deliver. It has to be good right? So I thought I’d take a look.

LitRPG. It says it there on the title. A fantasy with RPG gaming elements. I’d not delved into this subgenre all that much but I kind of knew what to expect. So I downloaded it and those expectations got blown out of the water. What a fantastic read. It was so much fun and surprisingly nuanced. Jason Asano our protagonist was a bit of a nobody and it is fair to say he doesn’t get off to the best of starts when he wakes up naked in a hedge maze with no idea how he got there or what to do. From that narrow beginning, we are introduced to an eclectic cast of characters all of whom are layered and different as we follow Jason’s adventures and his deliciously dark powers which change and grow throughout the story.

This book has adventure, dark arts, kickass skills and a protagonist with an attitude that doesn’t always get things right. There are plenty of political intrigues as well and plenty of twists and turns along the way. Jason Asano is a very polarizing character and interesting in that he is an outworlder and sees things through an Aussie bloke, no-frills, eyes kind of way. He is unique, alone and very much trying to understand not just his new world but his place in it.

I can see how this book suited serialisation. The chapters are not overlong and at the end of most, you just have to start the next to see what the heck is going to happen. It is very engaging in that respect and as a result, this book has dominated my evenings instead of the computer (my own writing, damn you Shirtaloon), Netflix’ing et al. It’s like eating chocolate. You say to yourself, I’ll just have 2 squares then find yourself sneaking another. It is like that with this.

The quality of the storytelling and world-building I found first-rate. That said, I never felt Jason Asano was ever really in danger, I mean he was, pretty much most chapters, but I mean I always knew he would muddle his way through somehow and this only reinforced itself as the story continued only with increasing confidence. Then, just when I was starting to think it was all getting a bit safe near the end, I got that dread sense of doom that not everything is going to work out alright and I actually had to stop and take stock at one point and collect myself.

Overall a thoroughly decadent and supremely enjoyable read. If you like the sound of all this then I suggest you give it ago. I’m so pleased I did and am moving on to the next book.

Everlong by R. Raeta

5/5 Stars – A captivating and wondrously told story I almost didn’t read.

The benefit of being in the #Indiebookclub is that I get to read stories that are outside of my usual fare.  That was very much the case with Everlong, a paranormal romance. I can still hear myself now, lamenting at my computer screen, ‘oh common guys, really?’

‘Yes, really.’

Paranormal romance = vampires I told myself, I know this formula. Heaving breasts, chiselled jaws, forbidden love and maybe a dash of piercing eyes. I’ve seen Twilight, okay I haven’t but I have seen bits of it and well I would like to apologize to R. Raeta, because actually, after grudgingly reading the first page I thought…this is different. This is not the recipe I expected. It just goes to show you should not judge every book by its genre!

First off, the entire book (apart from a couple of line errors) was beautifully written. Each sentence I felt was perfectly weighted and in many places lyrical, poetic even. Classy, that is the word I’m looking for. It is told in a narrative, first-person point of view that is, I think, really difficult to pull off and unusual, at least to me, and yet it just flowed. The pacing was spot on.

I don’t want to get sappy, but to call it a love story would be a disservice because it is so much more than that, yet love is at the heart of it. The story is Lily’s and it starts with stars and words to tales she writes but can never finish.  It is immediately captivating. Why does she sit on the same bench every night, writing story beginnings that have no ending and nobody will ever read? She is alone, broken and slowly fading away with time… until Sam takes a seat next to her.

Honestly, don’t tell anyone, but I think this just might be my favourite book of the year!

‘Fire’s Heart’ book three of The FireNight Prophecies by Darren Boeck

4.5/5 Stars – An Engrossing YA Fantasy Read

This book follows on from ‘Gifts of Fire and Ice’ and ‘Essence of Life’. I will not give any synopsis since I do not want to give any spoilers to those that have not yet read the first 2 books. Being a YA fantasy book I have reviewed it as such. It is not difficult for me to assume my 13-year-old self. I only have to think back to David Eddings and the books I was reading in those days to achieve that state.

The story, as you might have guessed, continues from where book two left off and the characters and narrative quickly flow and propel the reader on. The writing style is now familiar, in particular the way the characters speak and interact. We learn a lot more in this story about the different factions, religions and world-building, which in general, is starting to feel fully fleshed out. There are multiple cultures with different belief systems and world views but which are all inter-connected in some way. It’s pretty good I have to say.

There are some great characters in this series and in this book they continue to grow and develop, their relationships changing, getting deeper and stronger as they learn to rely on one another. The two sides, good and evil are ever-increasingly defined and you know the players on both sides. I have to say, it looks grim for our heroes at times, the action fierce but there is hope. Like all good tales, the path to victory looks treacherous and narrow but you know…those crazy kids might just do it. I will have to read the fourth and final book to find out.

If you like YA fantasy with a cool magic system, multiple cultures clashing and that is that bit different from the ilk then you should give this series a try.

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