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Always Gray in Winter Paperback – August 10, 2017
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Engels has action, clearly described, and otherworldly creatures I could picture in my mind. The right details are here to make this book a cinematic experience, and I enjoyed where the author took the story, as well.
A well-told science fiction tale.
Always Gray in Winter is a pleasant 184 pages. It feels like it was less than that. I was honestly surprised at the page count when I flipped through the paperback. This is a slim volume is perfect for carrying with you when you need a book to ward off people who want you to be sociable. It’s nice to come across a book now and then that doesn’t seem to be aiming for 350+ pages. (Rare anymore, right?) The cover might have some anthro fans coming up to try to chat you up, though. It’s jam-packed with thrilling action in the form of possibly deadly encounters and narrow escapes. The two main nationalities of the characters ‘at war’ in the book are North Korean and Polish, which is a combination I’ve never come across in the fiction I read before.
I liked Always Gray in Winter, but I had two main problems with it. One was that there were a lot of characters introduced quickly, with no real time to leave an impression before moving on to someone else. Sometimes it was several chapters before some of them were brought up again. With that being said, I did find myself really liking some of the characters. Tommy was definitely my favorite, but I liked grandpa Niko and most of the non-essential family cast as well. I think I was supposed to care for Pawly as she’s clearly supposed to be the primary character, but I didn’t. She just didn’t feel as ‘real’ as some of the other characters did, so I had trouble connecting with her.
The other was that the transitions between past and present were a bit jarring and I found myself flipping back and forth several times to make sure I had my facts straight. The characters I eventually got straightened out in my head by the halfway point, but I still wasn’t clear on a lot of the stuff by the end of the book. These two things really kept me off balance for a large portion of the slim book, and while sometimes that’s a good thing, in this case it was not. At least not in my opinion. I know some people like non-linear story-telling. I’m not a huge fan of it.
I liked how Mark J. Engels incorporated some of the ‘realities’ of transforming back and forth between a furred form and human form. There’s a scene where one of the characters thinks to herself that she was ‘shedding like a roomful of (bleep)ing Persians‘ from her change that had me grinning. The characters transitions weren’t as disgusting as they’re sometimes displayed in books and movies, but anyone who has cats can speak to the particular gross-out factor wet hairballs have. I also appreciated that one of the character’s reactions when he found out that someone he cared about could transform into a cat didn’t leap right into weird furry 'adult' dreams. Instead he had the reaction I think most of us would have.
Always Gray in Winter is a little rough around the edges, but it’s still a good read for the audience it targets. It’s terrestrial sci-fi that feels like it’s based in the here and now. Engels has a clear idea of what he’s doing with the story. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, I can say pretty confidently that I think we will see each successive entry into the series get stronger and more well-polished. I think the saga of this particular werecat family is one worth paying attention to in the future if you’re a fan of anthromorphic tales.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free from the author for review consideration.
While it is a good story the cast of characters is quite extensive and many of them are referred to by several different names, making it difficult at times to keep track of who's who and who's related to whom. The story also relies heavily on a series of flashbacks that appear with little to no warning, which can confuse an inattentive reader.
Despite its' faults, I look forward to seeing Engels' next book. Always Gray in Winter has hooked me into this series and I intend to find out where it is going.
I found myself a little confused at first by the large cast, but once I'd sorted out the relationships, Always Gray became an exciting, conflict-driven ride that kept me hooked right up to the last page. The author is a master of detail, and the military situations in the story rang fully authentic and very well researched.
As a general rule, and as a professional editor, I avoid reading indie books in my spare time. There is just too much room for the work to be sub-par. Not so here. This book ran so, so much deeper than it appears; what looks like a simple "werecat book" is also a diverse multi-family saga and a spy thriller. Set a foot in this book and you'll never escape it. You will truly feel for Pawly and her family, and truly want them and their kind to succeed... it's like Muggles and wizards all over again, the surreal living among the real (oh, but so much better than vampires)! The sheer realism is utterly startling - the amount of research that shows in this book (without just being research, but actually integral to character) was astounding. I finished it days ago and keep trying to pick it back up and read more. The sequel can't come fast enough!
Most recent customer reviews
This tale reminds me of books like Snow Crash.Read more
Background: Mark was born in Michigan and currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife, son and dog.Read more
I picked this up on Friday and didn't get anything I was supposed to do done...Read more