4 Book Reviews

It’s been about a month and a half since I posted my last book review. Although my reading has slowed as I got back into writing, I’ve still been reading. In fact, after watching Netflix’s Inside Bill Gates’ Brain it inspired me to read more. Bill always carries around approximately 15 books on a myriad of non-fiction subjects. Apparently he reads at a phenomenal rate and retains most of it in memory. While I can’t achieve that, I know reading is beneficial.

For this week, I thought I’d take a break from sharing my novelette Escape from Hell. At three chapters in, the character has just made it to Hell and if you haven’t read the story yet now is the perfect time to catch up. Next week I’ll share the fourth chapter.

I’ve read a number of books in the last couple of months, so it’s time for a quick-splattering of review, and some writing insights these books have provided.

The most recent I finished was Michael Connelly’s Two Kinds of Truth. (Genre: Crime Fiction). Bosch is simultaneously trying to solve a double-murder and clear his name from a corruption allegation made by a serial rapist.

I believe this is the third Bosch novel I’ve read, and enjoyed. Connelly does a great job of bringing in some flavour with the faint-yet-visible emotional struggles of his characters.

One thing that is interesting is the pattern that Connelly seems to have. Bosch always seems to be solving two crimes simultaneously. There always seems to be two plots. I’m trying to remember (and failing) if one plot gets more ‘page time’ than the other? I this particular case, the serial rapist is coming up for a slam-dunk get-out-of-jail-free court case in a week. That puts a timer on the plot; Bosch has a week to prove he didn’t plant evidence. The inclusion of two main plots adds to the drama, making the reader feel more tension and the weariness of Bosch. He’s juggling a lot of balls in the air, which also gels well with what we see about detectives on TV.

Tiamat’s Wrath is book 8 of The Expanse series by the authors known as James S. A. Corey. (Genre: Science Fiction) This series I have previously raved about.

In some ways I don’t think I can give a fair review of this book. I completed the read over a month ago and memories fade. More impactfully, I was mistakenly thinking it was the last book as I read it. (It is instead, the penultimate). Whenever I read a ‘last book’ in a series I always hold myself back a little: as though I don’t want to enjoy it too much, because it’s coming to an end. Consequently I highlighted fewer passages than normal, I believe a symptom of my end-of-series malady rather than the relative quality of the book.

The lines I did appreciate though:

  • Carrie Fisk of the Association of Worlds […] with the governors […] fighting to be the first one laughing at her jokes.
  • Growing older was a falling away of everything that didn’t matter. And a deepening appreciation of all the parts that were important enough to stay.
  • It was cunning almost to the point of wisdom.
  • “You take care of your tools, your tools take care of you.”
  • Naomi’s role in the underground, the underground’s ability to survive, everything was radically uncertain. They papered over the gaps with hospitality and kindness.
  • Timothy watched her like she was giving birth and he wasn’t a doctor. The visible understanding that there was probably something he should be doing to help, but he didn’t know what it was.
  • Evolution was a paste-and-baling-wire process that came up with half-assed solutions like pushing teeth through babies’ gums and menstruation. Survival of the fittest was a technical term that covered a lot more close-enough-is-close-enough than actual design.
  • Two men, each convinced of their exceptionalism, were capable of leapfrogging over vast chasms of maybe-this-isn’t-a-great-idea and this-is-totally-illegal.
  • “He’s dead. I saw it.”
    “So they’ve told me. He was a good . . . Well, he wasn’t really exactly a good person. He cared enough to try, anyway. But he was loyal as hell.”
    Holden paused. “He was my brother. I loved him.”
  • Being reminded that they’d been building roads through a dragon’s mouth left him jumpy.
  • This place is made out of palace intrigue and fear as much as it is concrete
  • Dreams were fragile things to build with. Titanium and ceramic lasted longer.
  • Naomi stepped over and put her arms around him. It was like hugging a metal strut.

The interesting words in this book: pearlescent, tisane, orrery, gestalt, anthropomorphizing, Heliosphere, interminable, bioluminescence and gratis.

(Genre: Legal Thriller) In The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly, we follow the character Bosch’s half-brother, Mickey Halley, a defence lawyer.

I enjoy the cross-over that occurs between Halley and Bosch books. The characters, float in and out, as you’d expect in a family relationship where they both work the same patch (crime).

It’s a solid book with twists and turns in the plot. I’d have to say I like Bosch books better; maybe because it’s easier to relate to the hero cop than the defence lawyer who can be a little greasy at times. It’s interesting that the two Connelly books are similar in many ways. One involves crooked cops, the other crooked lawyers.

(Both of the Michael Connelly books were read in hard-cover, so I can’t provide highlights. I’m one of these people who can’t ‘mark’ a book up).

I picked up Messages by John Hileman for free during a promotional event, and one should not look a gift-horse in the mouth.

It’s a faith-based story, and I think those are particularly hard. It’s pushing a message, without trying to over-push…a tight rope to walk. It’s also hard to know who your audience is: are you writing for Christians (who might know and understand the belief system), or for non-Christians (in which case the approach has to be entirely different, I think).

The best of my highlights:

  • “You know what is right, and what is wrong, because God has put it in you to know. But there are many who hear lies, and for whatever reason, be it wealth, sex, power, you name it, they give their ear to the lies. Something inside them chooses the lie over what they know is truth, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, they begin to allow their heart to be calloused, until they are no longer bothered by the evil, because they have justified it in their own mind.”
  • The second hand made its way around with no regard for the violence it would bring
  • “Why does God let bad stuff happen to good people, even people who are trying to do what he wants them to do?”
    “You’re assuming there are good people. … You’re caught up in relativism. You think because you’re not as bad as the next guy, that makes you good. If a thief stood before a judge and said, ‘I know I took all that money from the bank, but I’m not as bad as that other guy who kills people and likes it,’ do you think the judge is going to say, ‘You know, you’re right. You’re a pretty good guy. I’ll let you go.’? Of course not!”

It’s funny how you see your mistakes more easily when others’ make them. In Messages there’s a brief passage where the character receives an email from someone who can’t spell. Those few paragraphs contain spelling errors. I’ve done the same before. Now, reading it, without the I-wrote-this-bias, I don’t recommend it. It comes off tacky.

Also, I’m guessing it might have been cold while the story was being written. In fairly close positioning (i.e. several pages only) there were the lines ‘Unconsciousness crept over her like a warm blanket’ and ‘ David’s eyelids slid down like a warm blanket’. Be careful with expressions like this: use them one only.

Some interesting words: vestibule, barcalounger, orneryer.

Chapter 3 of Escape from Hell released

Escape from Hell is a fictional, faith-based novelette I’ve written, chronicling the journey of a man into Hell. It is a creative piece where I’ve let my imagination unspool and is intended for adults. Aspects of the subject matter will be unpalatable to some; while it is not my intention to inflict the reader, I have portrayed Hell graphically (and Heaven too).

In today’s posting of Chapter 3: Hell the story begins to get darker.

If you are new to the story, begin at Chapter 1: Death.

I’d love to hear your comments or thoughts about the story. What do you like or don’t like, how would you have done things differently, is it engaging?

Chapter 2 of Escape from Hell released

Escape from Hell is a fictional, faith-based novelette I’ve written, chronicling the journey of a man into Hell. It is a creative piece where I’ve let my imagination unspool and is intended for adults. Aspects of the subject matter will be unpalatable to some; while it is not my intention to inflict the reader, I have portrayed Hell graphically (and Heaven too).

In chapter 1: Death our character dies and must come to terms with his reality radically shifting. Death, it seems is nothing as he expected, and the promises of the afterlife are tantalising.

In chapter 2: The Court it’s time for our character to visit the heavenly court where his actions, words, and thoughts will be judged. It’s the entry-port to Heaven and the wonders of heaven are becoming apparent…

I hope you enjoy chapter 2!

Escape from Hell: Chapter 1: Death

I’ve decided to release (in full) my novelette Escape from Hell as a series of blog posts. I could have held it back and made it into a sellable item, but I’d rather it had wider exposure. This week, chapter 1, entitled Death is available.

If you enjoy it, please pass on a link to your friends. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments below the chapter.

Escape from Hell: Too Tough to Read?

I’m not sure what to do with my novelette Escape from Hell. This is a topic I’ve written about before and it’s still ruminating around my brain without an answer appearing. The story is a faith-based fictional story about a man who spends time in both Heaven and Hell. (Spoiler-free post).

The Heaven section (if I am allowed to praise my own work) is heart-warming, uplifting and a worthy attempt at touching the wondrous nature of what I believe Heaven will be. I think that’s a fair evaluation. It will be so different and so amazing that it is beyond comprehension. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the ‘Heaven’ section and love how it’s turned out, and I think most readers will also enjoy it.

The premise I have constructed for Hell is really clever (or at least I think so). However, it’s not a pleasant place. In writing it, I’ve really let my imagination ‘go dark’. (I should caveat this by saying I don’t read or write horror normally). There has been no point where I’ve pulled back from writing something because it was too evil in my descriptions.

That is not to say I’ve picked the worst things I can think of; I haven’t. It isn’t horror-porn but it is horrific-by-intent. I’ve taken literally the maxim that characters should be tortured by the plot. I’ve committed that torture with acts, events, circumstances, relationships and the kitchen sink (okay, not the last one). And the Hell section comprises the majority, in length, of the novelette.

Therein lies the problem: Even reading it, will push a lot of people well out of their comfort zone. The first Hell-based chapter already had a beta-reader squirm. However I think the first chapter is like O[rientation]-week at university, you don’t do much: it’s all fluff and bubbles. I’d say it was a 3 on the nasty-dial. Future chapters dial it up closer to 8. (My dear mum does an editing pass for me to catch what my eyes miss, and I’m not even sure I want her precious and timid soul to read any of the darker chapters!)

If a level 3 causes discomfort, what will an 8 do? Will the readers simply disconnect because it is so unpleasant? For an analogy of how I feel I could use Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or Hacksaw Ridge. Neither movie is enjoyable movie to watch and yet I feel as though both are important to watch. Each movie contains unpleasant truths, very graphically displayed, that are valuable to be remembered. The Passion of the Christ reminds us of the incredible cost Jesus paid to offer a path of reconciliation. Hacksaw Ridge portrays the brutal nature of war which ought to help it be not entered into lightly.

I’m not sure how to deal with this situation. If you have any ideas, I’d really appreciate hearing them in the comments below. I can think of a few possibilities, but I feel as though I need more tools in my toolbox as though I haven’t yet discovered the right answer or combination of answers. And I’d always prefer to have too many options – even some silly ones – because the right answer could be in a synergistic mix.

The simple answer, of course, would be to dial back on the graphic nature of Hell. Take it from and 8 down to a 5. Tone down the violence, obscure the threat, make it a little more pleasant. I could have a good crack at making it more palatable while still keeping the not-a-nice-place vibe. Doing so might mean that it gets more readers who can persist through to the end, not put-off by the yuck-factor.

I am reluctant to do that. I believe Hell is going to be horrific, and I want my character’s experience to be that. In the same way that I think Heaven will be better than we can comprehend, so too I believe Hell will be worse than the human mind can conceive. I’ve taken a stab at describing a pretty diabolical Hell, and I want it to stand out as much as The Passion of the Christ and Hacksaw Ridge. These movies showed something important; they were not feel-good movies where Jesus’ trip to the cross and the Allies victory were Sunday picnics.

Another option is to break up the horror by interspersing it with intermissions. Scene(s) that provide the readers a chance to take a ‘breather’. Something lighter and happier. I’m not a big fan of flashbacks or dream sequences, normally. Initially I didn’t like this idea, but now it’s growing on me. If done correctly, the breather could also fit nicely into the narrative, and might also intensify the ‘dark’ scenes.

Another options is to bring forward the intrigue in the story. Provide the reader with a promise of the direction of the story to encourage them to continue turning (and actually reading) pages.

Of course it’s not all about how I’m writing it. I can also get a better understanding of how if affects the reader by getting more alpha readers. What affects one reader might not affect another. I need more people to properly understand what buttons my story is pushing, and how far those buttons can be pressed.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on how I could tackle this issue, let me know.

A Writing Seed: Unwanted Memories

Sometimes I have small passages pop into my head, or as I call them writing seeds. Small thoughts that have the potential to germinate into something more. Here is one such writing seed, which might inspire you.


“Thank you for your service,” the young boy said to me as he held out his hand. I shook his hand because it was the right thing to do; because I understood what he was trying to do. He wanted to say that he appreciated the time I had spent in Vietnam in the ’50’s.

What he didn’t realise, was that I had no desire to think of those times. I thought about them enough. I certainly didn’t want to be thanked or receive commendations for the distasteful things I had to do over there. I didn’t want to be defined by them, either.

My country had called, and I had answered that call. I didn’t regret what we had to do, but I’ll never be happy about having to do it. Even if we had defeated the Viet Cong, we still wouldn’t have been victors. Not really. There are no winners in war among the soldiers who fought it. I’d lost a lot of good mates, and left some of the best parts of me on the battlefield.

Omnibus Update

Coding

I’ve just released v0.3.0 of MyWorkTracker which includes import and export functionality and a host of small usability and interface tweaks. I’ve also completely re-written the user guide. You can download and read about it, starting here.

The Crossing

Reading

The Crossing by Michael Connelly. This is the second Harry Bosch book that I’ve read. (In the timeline it actually comes before The Wrong Side of Goodbye which I have previously read).

It was an enjoyable read. Harry Bosch, ex-LAPD, crosses the line by working for his defence lawyer brother-in-law. Though initially sceptical of the client’s innocence Bosch is determined to find out the truth, wherever it may lead. It ends up to be a much larger crime than just a rape and brutal murder.

One aspect of Connelly’s writing that I admire is his three dimensional characters that live in the real world. Although the case consumes a lot of Bosch’s focus, it doesn’t force out other things that are important to him. He still thinks about his daughter and his other relationships. There is always more going on in Bosch’s life than just the main plot of the story line. Connelly beautifully balances those other interests’ making them both non-trivial and non-distracting.

Bosch also lives in the our world: he takes a ride in a Tesla driven by an Uber driver. Small touches like that make the novel feel more grounded, more plausible.

Changing speeds and to a completely different book, Why Revival Tarries by Leonard Ravenhill.

Though written forty years ago and so is in older language, Ravenhill takes no prisoners as he lays out the depth of calling, and the failings of the church.

With fire he calls the faithful back to intimacy with God passion for the lost.

Relating to 1 Cor 4:13 he wrote:

Any man who has so assessed himself “filth of the earth” has no ambitions – and so has nothing to be jealous about. He has no reputation – and so has nothing to fight about. He has no possessions – and therefore nothing to worry about. He has no “rights” – so therefore he cannot suffer any wrongs. Blessed state! He is already dead – so no one can kill him. In such a state of mind and spirit, can we wonder that the apostles “turned the world upside down”?

Why Revival Tarries by Leonard Ravenhill

Writing

I haven’t done much writing lately. All of my spare time has been going into coding.

The other day I began to read my own book, Vengeance Will Come. With fresh eyes I spotted a lot of things which I’d now do differently. Whether it is because my style has evolved or just distance from the project I can’t say. I suspect both, and I can do better. Consequently I have removed it for sale. I’m not sure what this means for it’s future. I could re-publish it for sale on Amazon, or release it on another platform. Or just continue writing the series for fun. Many options, and no decision has been made yet.

I am, however, going to start re-working on my faith-based novelette, Escape from Hell. It was nearly complete and it’s time I bring it to completion.

And finally, for your listening pleasure, a song that has been on hard-repeat for the last few hours:

Rend Collective – “Rescuer (Good News)”

May you have a great weekend.