Book Review: Compendium by Ellen Curtis

Details from Amazon:

Compendium

Product Details

Compendium – the debut novel from Engen superstar author Ellen Curtis is finally available internationally! Read the three shorts that propelled Curtis into stardom: "The Tourniquet Revival," "At Midnight, the Dawn," and "Falling into Fire!" Explore the Engen Universe like never before, and even gain early insights into Engen Books’ newest series, Infinity. Available now at a special discounted price!

Initial Thoughts:

I know Ellen from conventions (and from her time doing a webshow I appeared on) and from being an author in Newfoundland (she’s with Engen Books), so after reading a short story she did in Light/Dark (which I enjoyed) I picked this up at Sci-Fi on the Rock and finally got a chance to read it (in my defense I have been reading a lot of comic books). I like to support local authors and of course I enjoy getting books signed and speaking with the author about their work. Also of course I like short stories (have at least 3 more collections of them to read). I’ll note here that I liked how there is a short preface that introduces the idea that the story themselves are part of the Engen world (and I like the character Matthew, pretty sure I know who that’s supposed to be). It was clever and a unique way to start a collection.

Main Points:

Since this is a short collection (which isn’t a bad thing at all, I like short) I’ll do each story individually (As it’s impossible to talk about short stories with revealing  details…SPOILER ALERT!

The tourniquet revival, very good story. Lots of action, well developed characters, creepy villains, good atmosphere. A kidnapping with a supernatural/cult twist where I found myself excited and drawn in. I do have to point out though what I felt was a small error. Kat thinks "her next decision would haunt her for years to come", it’s a nice phrase but I can’t see how it fits in with the story. While things don’t turn out perfectly (what horror story does?) I really don’t see how anything she did in the next moment could have been any different, how it would have helped. The guilt part makes sense but the shooting when she opens the door makes sense to me, I just wonder if this line was missed in editing, I’ll try to ask the author about it sometime.

At midnight the dawn, a nice story with an unexpected twist. To be honest though I found this to be the weakest of the collection, I think the issue I had was that while it starts off really nice (What are these two teenagers up to? Why are they stealing? What are the details of this gang?) it goes downhill once they are captured. The whole demon/angel angle is thrown in abruptly and I felt that the powers/mythology/history was not given it’s due. I know it’s a short-story but I think this one could have done with at least another 4-5 pages to delve into the characters and history. This one seemed a little rushed or possibly maybe only a second or third draft (in my experience 4-5 drafts is the minimum for anything).

Falling into fire, my favorite of the collection. Here’s a great line near the start, "The staccato crash of running pierced the hall, annihilating any silence that had previously existed here".  I love conspiracy theories/sci-fi/military experiments gone awry. A good action-packed stories, nice characters and really interesting ending, I hope she’ll return project Aisli sometime. I also enjoyed how at the end we’re not entirely sure what happened, a little mystery can be a good thing. Once more though I felt this story to be cut short a little too soon, I certainly would have liked some more back-story and the characters, the institution and the experiment.

Final Thoughts:

Ellen is obviously making most of her main characters female in this collection, which is fine. I can certainly relate to being able to write your own gender easier and I would also agree there are not enough strong female characters in fiction (or most stories period). Ellen has a way with words, she uses phrases I enjoy and her writing is often eloquent and clever. She also makes me look up words, which is always a good thing (especially if you’re a writer like me). I do have put out a small criticism, why do the story titles not have any words capitalized? (I added capital letters above just to illustrate) I know it seems very nit-picking but I couldn’t help it, just something I noticed.  Overall I give this a strong recommendation (for readers 14+) and 7.5 out of 10. I’m looking forward to reading Ellen (along with Matthew and the other Engen writers) short stories in Sci-fi from the Rock Returns (also from Engen), hopefully I’ll finish it before the convention in May.

Advertisements

Book Review: Light/Dark Short Stories

As I’m starting my vacation I have time and hopefully there will be at least 2 more posts in the next week or so Smile For now my thoughts on a collection of short stories put together by a local publisher, Engen Books.

light_dark

Details from Amazon:

 

Book Description

Publication Date: April 21, 2012

Eight short stories from Engen Books’ top talent in storytelling. Featuring the stories Revving Engen, Reptilia, Theogony, Gristle while you Work, You have the Touch, Scarlett, Remers, and Omega; this collection is guaranteed to excite and entertain!


Product Details

  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: Engen Books (April 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1926903064
  • ISBN-13: 978-1926903064
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces

Initial Thoughts:

As any reader of this blog knows I am quite a fan of short stories. I like how they are episodic and often complete by themselves. I like the little feeling of accomplishment when you finish reading one and perhaps more relevant to this post I like the collections that Engen has done so far (see their website for the other two). So while I was at a convention last year (yeah I’m that slow) I picked one up as an even trade for my book.

Main Points:

The quality of these stories are good and I like the simple cover design with the contrasting black and white colors. As with their other collections I find though that there is a lack of proper editing. It’s not terrible but it gets annoying when I know that on every second or third page their will be a mistake. Simple stuff like writing “and” when it should be “end”, things that an editor should have picked up. I said it before and I’ll say it again, grammatical mistakes take the reader out of the story and this is what I found to be the case here.

Because I got the time (and I roll like that) I will make comments on each story (briefly Winking smile) however.

The Theogony,by Matt LeDrew. I enjoyed this story though I did find the whole tablet power/idea confusing at first. I suppose before I go on I should say…

SPOILER ALERT!

Okay so at the end of this story we are never sure if the patient ever met this woman or if he ever even left the facility, I like this sense of uncertainty and I enjoyed how it is complete in itself. LeDrew is very good at describing scenes and he does a good job with characters.

Gristle While you work by Jay Paulin, very good! Open-mouthed smile A nice twist for this average woman who helps out her brother turns out to be a monster that eats people whole. My only complaint is the end, why did she eat her brother? He is one of her only family members left (her parent’s died) and it just didn’t make sense to me. This story could have used some more meat on the bones (and yes that’s pun intended Winking smile)

Scarlett by Andrea Edwards, excellent story! One of my my very favourites of the collection. I loved how this is a more adult Buffy-type story and it left plenty of room for a sequel. I also like the fact that she’s not afraid to kill characters and show the emotional effects of a horrible event, it’s more realistic to human nature and I look forward to reading more from Andrea in the future.

Reptilia by Matt Ledrew, really good one Smile. Very visceral, lots of excitement and just the right amount of gore for my tastes. What I didn’t like was the ending and how the virus spread. One of the characters even tries to figure it out (how it jumped to a driver who had no contact with the infected blood) and is killed before he can reach any answer. Then the team who shows up and knows that it was all a test (for a government weapon) ends up being killed as well! It was certainly a surprise but for me not a welcome one and I just didn’t feel it made any sense.

Omega by Ellen Curtis, excellent story. I really enjoyed all the medical details and the conspiracy theory. The fact that the main characters secretly plan to take down the institution and break their friend out was a fitting ending.

Remers by Sarah Thompson, an ok story. I always liked the Six-Million Dollar Man/Robocop idea (though the latter movies turn to complete garbage) and the cyborgs in this story are described well and it’s an exciting story, for the most part. The problem with this (and it’s something I’ve discovered with other short-stories) is that it goes on too long. That and I didn’t like how everything just works out for Chase, he lives, gets these super enhancements, is instantly the best member of the team and even gets his girlfriend back at the end. This may make me sound a little depressing but it was just too tidy, I guess I’m not a big fan of fairy tale type ending.

Reviving Engen by Matt LeDrew. This was an odd story, there is something strange going on with the main character, he’s attacked, saved and by the end will still have no idea. While the atmosphere, imagery and characters are well done I just never got into the story, this is one of the weaker ones of the collection.

You have the Touch by Larry Gent. An excellent story, a lot of fun, a great character, lots of pop culture and geeky references, some clever use of images and some good humour surprises. My favourite of the collection. Hot smile

Final Thoughts:

I will certainly purchase Light/Dark 2 (or whatever it’s called) but I do hope they get a better editor and wider selection of authors (having Matt write 3 stories when it’s HIS company does seem like he’s tooting his own horn at least a little bit). I would give this an 8 out of 10 but the editing mistakes and other concerns make me put it down to a 6 Thumbs up. I do recommend this with some trepidation and would probably tell a reader to skip the Engen and Remers stories completely.

Until next time I am as always…

SignatureB&W_0003

Book Review: The Imagination Journals by Darren Hann

Details from Amazon:

Book Description

Publication Date: August 4, 2012

Within The Imagination Journals You will Find Five Stories , The Assignment , Holy Troll , What Makes It Modern Technology , Plan 9.5 From Outer Space ,and Bunker-6 .Each Story will Stretch your Imagination to new limits,and beyond.


Product Details

Initial thoughts:

Darren is a friend of mine and I’ve known him for years. I enjoyed his first novel "Time Stone: Saving the Rock" and while I was at a convention last year we did a swap and I got this collection of short stories from him. I quite enjoy short stories and while I’m a terribly slow reader, I did finally finish this book today.Open-mouthed smile

Main Points:

If Darren reads this…well we might have some things to discuss. I hope he’ll realize I’m being constructive and not mean spirited. Writers have to develop a thick skin after all. With that said I quite enjoyed the first 3 stories. (I had read "Holy Troll" in another collection of short stories). What starts to really become noticeable in "What Makes it Modern Technology?" is the lacking of proper editing and formatting. It becomes obvious here that the book is self-published and that like most authors (in my experience) Darren is great with ideas but terrible with editing. Editing is a chore and its a strange thing that we can easily find the mistakes in other people’s work but no so much in our own. Darren also has the unfortunate habit of establishing characters, getting the reader into the story and then abruptly ending it. I think they key with a short story is to get the reader involved and make a story just the right length. When you look towards the next story thinking "how can this be over so fast?" Or "is this done yet?", in either case you have a problem. I don’t claim to be an expert on writing short stories but I’ve read plenty and I know what I like. All of this brings me to the largest problem with this collection, "Plan 9.5 from Outer Space" I guess maybe now is the time for…

SPOILER ALERT!

So Darren wrote and directed a fan film of the same name. The movie is both a homage and an improvement of the horrible train wreck that is "Plan 9 from Outer Space." I enjoyed the movie and this story is an adaptation of it. The problem is that it’s not a good adaption. Turning any kind of movie into a book (when it wasn’t based on one to start with) is a risky thing to do and Darren shouldn’t have tried. Editing and grammatical mistakes really takes the reader out of the story. Simple stuff her like instead of "u.f.o." there is "u.f.", simple words like "every" are misspelled and the story jumps all over the place and even has a character die and comeback (for no apparent reason) all in two pages. I found it a chore to get through this story and is mostly the reason I was so long reading the collection of stories.

The final story "Bunker-6" also has lots of grammatical strangeness going on and ends entirely too quickly. It has all the elements of a good story, fun characters, cool technology, humour, action and a recurring villain but once more technical issues drag it down. This story shows the most promise I may end up getting another short story collection from Darren just to see what happens next in the story.

Final Thoughts:

Darren really needs an editor, for his first book he did and the result was much better. I can only recommend this book if you skip "Plan 9.5" entirely and have a high tolerance for errors with the others. Darren is a creative guy that does lots of great stuff (including Sci-Fi on the Rock, which is an excellent convention I whole-heartily recommend Hot smile), sadly this is not one of them. I can only give this 5/10 and hope that Darren’s next work is a return to the "Time Stone". Next for me will likely be a movie review, followed by a book review of another collection of short stories by local authors (Light/Dark by Engen) which hopefully won’t take me months to read 😉 until next time I am as always…

SignatureB&W_0003