On Unfaithful Wings (Icarus Fell 1)–Bruce Blake

About the author: Bruce Blake is a relatively new author. This novel appears to have been his first full-length effort; previously he had only published short stories. He has an Amazon page where we learn that he’s Canadian, which is pretty interesting, eh? He also has a personal site, and can be found on Good Reads and other similar places.

On Unfaithful Wings starts off as a rather laboured morality tale. We are introduced to Icarus Fell, a man with a stupid name, who has screwed up his life. (And yes, the obligatory Greek mythology references are made. As are puns. And some moralising about the parallels between his choices and his namesake’s.) Icarus is then killed off in the first chapter, dies in the second chapter, and spends the third being counselled by the archangel Michael. Oh my, why am I reading this? (This thought recurred frequently throughout the book. When I expressed this thought out loud, I was asked why I actually was. Turns out that I wanted to know what happens next. Oops.)

My senses are alert to ponderous Christian Fiction since my review of Cool Beans, but On Unfaithful Wings doesn’t develop in that way. In fact, it turns into a rather gory horror thriller. Maybe it would have been better if it had have had developed in that way, as at least it would have developed! I felt that the story meandered along without too much direction for too long.

The plot, such as it is. Actually, before I start this off, I’m going to admit something: I’ve never been an addict. Not to drugs, alcohol, videogames, whatever else. I get interested in things, get enthused, and then it tails off. I haven’t had the “I will destroy my life and everyone around me to have more of thing“-type of experiences. This made rather a lot of the book rather hard to engage with, as Icarus Fell is an alcoholic junkie with some serious judgement issues. After being killed, Fell is tasked with ferrying souls to heaven, in return for which he will be given a fresh start at life. Exactly why this scenario is offered is one of the few mysteries that the story holds. Anyhow, it’s a fresh plot device, so at least the book manages something fresh. However, the character will frequently do things that are so stupid, so counter-intuitive to his task (a Macguffin of “saving his son, who isn’t his biological son, but is the one thing”, etc etc) that you’re left wondering how he reaches that conclusion. Fell chooses not to ferry the soul of the abusive priest who raised him to Heaven, and from that action the meat of the book develops. The priest remains on Earth to exact vengeance upon Fell, who he blames for the corruption and death of Fell’s mother.

Now, it sounds as though I didn’t enjoy the book, which is not entirely true. Like I said, the concept is novel, and it is pretty well-written. The author has a good turn-of-phrase, spends enough time with his adjectives, but (happily) doesn’t become overly florid. He also utilises the first-person perspective quite well. The story moves along, and it is quite possible that my early misgivings where less the book’s fault, and more a result of me not being sufficiently focused when I started reading.

Maybe some of the problem is that I couldn’t relate to the protagonist: “Normally I’m very good at taking advantage of the guilt of others.” Most charming.

Referral link to Amazon:

American Goddesses–Gary Henry

First up, author stuff! Gary Henry has the obligatory Amazon author page, no apparent Wikipedia page, nor a personal author page. Alternately I just couldn’t find them. Gary Henry is a common name, apparently. He used to be a Navy Journalist, currently writes marketing copy and technical articles for a manufacturer of construction products. I can imagine that writing fiction novels would be a nice distraction from that day-to-day work.

I was under the impression that I’d acquired American Goddesses through a Humble eBook Bundle. Apparently not. It must have been during a “I have an Amazon gift card, I shall spend my Amazon gift card” evening.

The story (partially cribbed from the blurb): Two small-town women (Megan and Trish) through scientific experimentation find themselves with nearly unlimited powers of mind and body. Telekinesis, super-strength, invincibility to physical attack, levitation, super-speed. The blurb says that as a result their lives get complicated. Gee, really? Anyhow. They are not alone with these powers–back during the Cold War, the Soviets had extensive psychic power development programmes. Russians are apparently the easiest typecast villian. Anyhow. Apparently “things turn nasty as a shadowy organisation attempts to use Megan and Trish for their own evil ends, and destroy them, their town and the USA in the process.” A reasonable summary.

The book suffers, in my opinion, for being too short. I really wanted to know the details of this world, to have more plot exposition, to have more development of these characters. They are presented in a reasonably two-dimensional form: Megan is older, married, and her powers are causing her husband to become an alcoholic and to cheat on her. Trish is young, naive, a waitress, and a superhero simultaneously. There are such incongruities! And there is a most terrible, horrific deus ex machina towards the end of the book. Either one of two things occurred: the author wrote himself into a corner, and needed a convenient way to get out. He does this by throwing some Prelude pages at the beginning of the book, and then fills eighty percent of the pages before revisiting the prelude. Or, and what I hope was the case, had grand visions for a more well-rounded cast, introduced them in the prelude, but them didn’t have room for them in the story, or had to lose a lot of their exposition during the editing phase. Either way, it’s really jarring when it occurs (I won’t give too many details), and really pulled me out of the story. It felt horribly contrived. Introducing new characters near the end of a novel is a big no-no, and not having your main protagonists participate in the climactic scenes just seems bizarre.

The other problem is that there are plot devices that go nowhere. A mysterious organisation (the Agency) with the power to shape the political and social landscape is introduced, but it goes nowhere. It turns out to purely be a plot device that will never be revisited. There is no resolution to many of the subplots. It’s most disappointing. This novel could have easily been expanded to answer many of the questions and situations that it poses.

Having said that, the book is tolerable. It’s a bit (okay, a lot) preachy towards the end, and some of the plot devices used to wrap things up are quite hackneyed, but overall it’s quite readable. It’s a cheap ebook, and showed a lot of promise from a first-time author. I just wish that a little more time had been taken to produce a more well-rounded story.

Amazon link thing. It’s currently $0.99, which is throwaway money. My problem is that there are an awful lot of very cheap self-published novels out there. The choice is yours, I suppose.

Cool Beans (Maya Davis book 1)–Erynn Mangum

This one has been languishing in my drafts for too long. Time to push it out the door.

Erynn Mangum (it took me a while staring at that name to work out that it’s a “creative” spelling of Erin) has an Amazon page, but no Wikipedia page. She has a personal page as well. There we learn that she’s fanatic about coffe, the colour pink, all things girly, and the Food Network. She also offers a critique service, which is something I’d not heard of. Of which I had not heard. Huh, prepositions.

I made some notes on my phone as I read the book. Therefore, this review is a little more stream-of-consciousness in style.

Cool Beans is the first of the Maya Davis series by Mangum; the series has finished up at three books. The blurb reads: “Everything seems to be going perfectly for Maya Davis: She has a great job at a coffee shop, gets along with her parents, and is happily single. That is until her best friend starts dating Maya’s high school sweetheart.” A fair summary.

The kindle has a strange feature of opening the book at the first page of the story, rather than at the graphic for the cover. So, I always flick back, look at the cover page, read the bibliographic information, check out the contents, the dedication–all of the normal stuff (right? I’m not that strange, am I?) Doing so with this book, I notice that this is a book about Christian people supported by Christian activities, and so on and so forth. My initial reaction isn’t positive. I’m not a fan of organised religion in general, I feel that it leads to harm in the world, and has been the cause of a lot of very bad things. I’m not going to go on further than that. However, I was aware from the start that this was going to be a book with heavy Christian overtones, and that gave me pause.

Despite that, (clearly, else why would I be writing this review?), I pressed onwards. I did spend quite a bit of my reading time wondering when the preachiness was going to start, and was happily surprised to find that it wasn’t too over-the-top, in-your-face, or excessive. At least, not for a while. It did arrive, and when it did, it was a little jarring. Actually, that’s not fair on the book–it’s not a bad story, in fact, it’s quite readable, even if all of the characters put too many points into their Earnest and Cuteness skills. There was a constant feeling that this novel had been sketched out first with all of the major plot-points noted down, and then the gaps were filled in.

Oh, and there are side-hugs. That was a giant warning sign to me. (For those are not aware of the Christian side-hug, allow me to mockingly explain. The side-hug is designed to prevent contact between people for fear that if two people happen to have their fronts touch, it will lead to sinful activities. Apparently having breasts pressed into your chest/having your breasts pressed into another’s chest means that you will lose all restraint, and be caught up in a whirlwind of lascivious activities. Ahem. *fans self*)

The lists. Our protagonist makes little lists of four or five reasons for something that’s bothering her. It’s a coping mechanism, nervous tick, way of organising her thoughts. At least, that’s what it’s presented as, until it is revealed that it’s supposed to be part of her daily devotions. I don’t think it works if she’s just trying to justify the latest development in her romantic entanglements.

I realise that this a Christian book about Christian people for Christian people, but I still find it odd that everyone seems to have a bible at hand. Who keeps a bible under the desk at a coffee shop? Or is that just one of the things that I should not be questioning?

Alright, a problem that is not specifically about the Christian preaching intrusions: the author attempts to include “colour” into her descriptions–little interactions with customers, or a description of the milk being frothed for a mocha. I understand that these are attempts at colour, but they seem superfluous. I don’t think that I’m being overly-critical here, several times I was left wondering why I’m being told about the age, clothing, demeanour of a customer whose only purpose appears to be lengthening the novel by a paragraph or two.

The love story for the protagonist is telegraphed from a mile away. Or, and this is a valid hypothesis, I’m just cynical and figured the shape of the story. (When I was making notes from this review, I left myself one “Was I wrong about this?” No, no I was not wrong. Things developed pretty much as I expected them to develop.) It’s all a bit obvious.

I know that it sounds like I’m being critical, and you’re wondering why I bothered reading and finishing the book if there were such issues: the story actually wasn’t too bad, and skimming over some of the more preachy bits worked for me. The characters do their job, but the subplots don’t go anywhere. We’re introduced to characters who are essentially filler. They’re not quite caricatures, but nor do they make it much beyond one-dimensional single-purpose backstory.

I don’t remember when I purchaed it; probably during a “I have an Amazon giftcard, let’s spend it” evening. It’s not terrible. I won’t be seeking out books two or three in the series though.

Amazon links. (Clicking and purchasing from this link earns me the tiniest sliver of money, and doesn’t cost you anything!) Paperback and Kindle versions are both available.