Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book Review: "Bitter Steel" by Charles A. Gramlich

Yes indeedie doodie, it's time for yet another book review and yet another peek into what I like to read, which interestingly enough doesn't necessarily influence what and how I write.

As a rule, I don't read short story anthologies (either by one writer or by multiple writers), which was probably due to what was out there and what I was forced to read during my formative school years. Sad to say that the schtuff that came out during that time period really soured me for the next couple of decades on reading any kind of prose that wasn't a novel.

As a matter of record, I really didn't return to reading shorts until I started writing in 2006 (via the literary journals I got for entering contests) and I definitely didn't start to appreciate and enjoy them until I started blogging in 2008.

Why blogging?

Blogging is where I was first introduced to the author of this latest book review via another great writer's blog, who currently co-edits the only e-zine that I read on a consistent basis and of which is the only non-G oriented website that I feature a picture link to.

Like I previously stated, I am not a fan of short story anthologies, but I have been a fan of Charles's writing ever since I decided in 2009 to take a chance on purchasing and reading his excellent fantasy trilogy "The Talera Cycle" (in which you'll find reviews of all three volumes if you click on the link "Book Review"), so after almost zero thought, I decided to take another chance and purchased a copy of his fantasy short story anthology Bitter Steel this past October.

Let me say right off the bat that this book met and exceeded all of my personal criteria for good reading material: the writing was crisp, the pacing was fast and steady, and staying true to form, the stories and poems (for the anthology contained a few of those) were written so as to not insult the intelligence of the reader.

Now even though I have a decent collection of Charles's writings (this book makes number 6) and consider myself to be modest fan of his work, by no means will this review be overly gushing because frankly 1} that isn't my way and 2} that kind of review really turns me off.

While I find that all of the stories kept my interest and got me lost within my head, there were a particular group that I really enjoyed and when I finished reading left me longing for more.

The stories that he wrote featuring a character called Thal Kyrin kept me turning the pages long after my assigned work break time had ended. I think that the main reason as to why I became so enthralled with these stories was that they reminded me of his Talera Cycle trilogy and in fact kept me wanting to go back to that trilogy to fill in the gaps because I was convinced that Thal Kyrin was a major character of that series.

Even though the dialogue drove me nutty at times, I was able to enjoy "Slugger's Holiday", simply because I read that kind of pulpy stuff during the first several years of my state career that were spent working with old newspapers (please check out the link "Library" for an in-depth look at old newspapers). Not pulpy news stories, but pulpy newspaper comics. Yes, there were pulpy newspaper comics back in the 30's & early 40's.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the half dozen poems sprinkled throughout the book. While on the surface the poems were a good read, they just didn't affect me like the short stories did. Nothing personal, but poetry, like horror, simply doesn't move me like other genres. Nevertheless, I am impressed with writers who can write poetry and/or horror, and Charles is one of those who can do both forms justice.

To sum it up, this book was a great read, an excellent bang for the buck, and a great introduction if you haven't read anything in this genre or of Charles Gramlich. I truly enjoyed reading it from cover to cover and it's definitely something that will become part of my frequent read-at-work books.

Pick up a copy for yourself today, because you will not be disappointed.


  1. Thanks, man. Glad you enjoyed. I do think the Thal stories are the strongest bunch in the book. Slugger's holiday has definitely been one of my least well recieved stories. I tried something very different with that tale and it's not my normal way of writing. It was challenging. As for the poetry, I think my horror poetry is better than my fantasy stuff. A couple of those that were in the collection were tributes to Howard, of course. Thanks much for the review. I really appreciate it.

  2. Thanks for the plug, G.

    Gramlich's second Talera came with me to Europe. I had already read it by CG is that good.

    I will get Bitter Steel very soon.

  3. Charles: In all honesty, I have found your writings to be of remarkably high quality and for what's it worth, you have gotten me back into wanting to read fantasy again.

    "Slugger's Holiday" was unique to say the least. Like I said, it reminded me of the pulpy newspaper comics of the 30's & early 40's, which were very good reads back then. Once I got into the groove of the dialogue and narrative, it really kept me interested until the end.

    And you're more than welcome for the review. I do like offering my opinions on what I read, and I try to be as even balanced as I can with it.

    David: You're more than welcome. I should actually give a shout out to Travis as well, because I think that's where I originally found a link to yours from.

    Always liked your blog and will always like the e-zine. Good quality writing, which has been sorely lacking in most of the stuff I read nowadays.

  4. Hey, interesting. I don't generally like short story collections, either, btw. This sounds good though.

    Like you, what I read doesn't seem to influence what I write.

  5. R: It really was.

    My thing was that for a couple of years prior to blogging, most of what I read for short stories were in literary journals, so they were intellectually dry to say the least.

    These were not.

  6. Thanks for the review of Charles' work. Personally I think he's the best writer who ever lived or ever will. Not that I'm biased, of course. ;)

  7. Evan: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    Lana: You're more than welcome.

    Biased? Who says you're biased? :D

    In all seriousness, I find Charles to be an exceptional writer. There aren't too many people that I can truthfully say are answers to a few security questions, but Charles one of those people.

    Glad I found his blog back in '08, because I don't think I would have discovered his writings without it.

  8. Sounds good. I love a good short story collection. And you know, I can't resist a book with some poetry thrown in. I'll definitely check out Charles' book. Thanks for the great review, G.

  9. Kelly: You're more than welcome. Hope you find it to you satisfaction.


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