Monday, December 31, 2012

Star Sailor #1: The Wolves of Sahlam (Chris Fox)

Star Sailor #1: The Wolves of Sahlam
(The Star Sailor series, Book 1)
Chris Fox
Writer's Bloc
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*+ (Terrible/Bad)


DESCRIPTION: Where she comes from, she will not say. Where she's going, she does not know. Najima Dezetoiles sails the stars on a raft, traveling wherever the solar winds take her. Her life of carefree adventure takes her to the backwater planet Sahlam II, where terrifying wolf-beasts prey upon a helpless fishing village. Curiosity piqued, Najima sets out alone into the woods to investigate.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I really need to be more selective in my freebie downloads... This story sounded like a wild space opera adventure, with a premise that would not be out of place in a cartoon series or comic book. Unfortunately, that's about all it proved to be. Even though the story follows Najima, by the end I still had no clue who this young woman was, what her motivations were, or why she did anything she did. One minute she's a carefree adventurer, the next she's appointed herself judge and jury over strangers' lives, only to revert to carefree mode less than a page later. Is she a human girl, or is she a split-personality android? I honestly couldn't say, though the fact that she eats seems to argue that, at the very least, she's an organic life form, if one with an entirely impenetrable thought process. As for logic... well, I knew the logic would be light in a book where it's possible to sail a raft - without any evident life support systems - through outer space, but I'd hoped the storyline might display some semblance of it. I was disappointed on this front, too. I've seen Saturday morning cartoons with deeper characters and more interesting stories. On the plus side, it's a very fast read, and at least it's formatted well. (I've read enough poorly-formatted eBooks to appreciate it when someone gets it right.)
As a closing note, Amazon credits an "illustrator," implying that this short story was supposed to contain pictures; aside from the cover art, which is arguably not a true illustration, I found no images whatsoever.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Abarat (Clive Barker) - My Review
The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme (Elizabeth Haydon) - My Review
The Bloody Jack adventures (L. A. Meyer) - My Review

Heroine Addiction (Jennifer Matarese)

Heroine Addiction
Jennifer Matarese
lulu.com
Fiction, Fantasy
** (Bad)


DESCRIPTION: Being a superhero's not the glamorous life it's cracked up to be. Just ask Vera Noble. Daughter of the famous Noble bloodline, her life and career were laid out before she even knew how to walk, let alone how to use her teleportation powers. But she got sick of the hypocrisy and lies, always presenting the perfect image of a loving family while, in reality, she and her parents and brother can barely spend five minutes together without coming to blows. It only got worse when Vera came out as a bisexual and her father ran off with Morris, his former arch-enemy. To save herself, she turned her back on saving the world... only to find, five years later, that it's not so easy to walk away from destiny, or family. Her father goes missing, and only his lover Morris seems to care. He goes to Vera for help, dragging her back into a life she swore she'd never return to - and a problem that her superhero skills may be too rusty to handle.

REVIEW: This sounded like a fun idea, a twist on the tropes of comic-book superheroes and their perpetually endangered worlds. Unfortunately, I found myself shunted to the side by unsympathetic characters in a universe that didn't even try to make sense, delivering problems, possibilities, and solutions out of the blue. Vera's a selfish, temperamental whiner, her family's a pack of image-obsessed phonies without an ounce of compassion between them... frankly, there were only two or three people in the whole book I gave a dang about. The story felt stretched out, with a plot that wasn't so much about Vera unraveling the mystery of her father's disappearance as it was about her arguing, defending herself to the audience, and having problems and answers fall into her lap at prolonged intervals. The climax was supposed to be emotionally dramatic, but it rang hollow after Matarese went out of her way to establish how little stock the Noble family put in genuine emotions. This eBook was also riddled with formatting errors, including misplaced paragraph breaks, perpetually dropped letters (including the inexplicable elimination of double-l's from most words), and dialog so jumbled I had trouble telling who was speaking in most conversations. None of this added up to an enjoyable reading experience.
Heroine Addiction had a few fun moments, but it felt far too long, and wallowed in too many unpleasant characters' lives.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Casting Shadows (J. Kelly Anderson) - My Review
Heroics for Beginners (John Moore) - My Review
Megamind (Single-Disc Edition) - Amazon DVD Link

Sunday, December 30, 2012

December Site Update

The previous 8 reviews are now archived and cross-linked at Brightdreamer Books.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Treasure of the Jaguar Warrior - Mystery of the Mayan Calendar (Barbara Ivie Green)

Treasure of the Jaguar Warrior - Mystery of the Mayan Calendar
(A Paranormally Yours book)
Barbara Ivie Green
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**+ (Bad/Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Fresh from a bitter divorce, Jessie needed a new start. When her Aunt Kate asked her to housesit her old mansion for the holidays, it seemed like a great idea, a chance to recharge and figure out where she wants her life to go. But Kate left out a few pertinent details... such as the nosy matchmaking neighbor, the hunky electrician, the peculiar gardener, and - oh, yes - the matter of the resident ghost. Jacques seems harmless enough, as ghosts go, if irritatingly handsome and seductive. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the curse that binds him to the town, or the all-too-living treasure hunters snooping around the property - both of which might ultimately determine the fate of the world when the Mayan calendar rolls over on December 21, 2012.
So much for Jessie's relaxing vacation...
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I suppose I should've been wary when, after downloading this eBook, it filed itself under "B" for Barbara instead of "G" for Green - a minor formatting error, true, but one that calls into question the professionalism and quality of the title.
This was billed as a fun, lighthearted romance with action and adventure. It turned out to be an exercise in verbal slapstick, full of goofy, paper-thin characters stumbling through a threadbare plot. I have a limited tolerance for slapstick in the best of circumstances; by the time I cleared the first chapter, I was already well past that limit. None of the multiple interlocking romances rang true... but, then, I struggled in vain to find a character who wasn't a simple caricature sketch, or who displayed an iota of intelligence. Not caring about the fates of the characters or their fictional world made the climax - where said world and characters stand on the brink of disaster - fall flat, and the ending had me rolling my eyes. The whole time I was reading, I kept hearing dorky TV sitcom music and canned laughter - because not even a live studio audience could be convinced to laugh on cue.
If you love unbridled slapstick silliness and quick reads, this should be right up your alley. Otherwise, unless it's offered as a freebie download again (as it was when I grabbed it), I can't recommend it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Jaguar Princess (Clare Belle) - My Review
Cat-a-Lyst (Alan Dean Foster) - My Review
Time Treasure (Sheila Raye) - My Review

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Simple But Effective Strategies to Improve Yourself (Robert Eastwood)

Simple But Effective Strategies to Improve Yourself
Robert Eastwood
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Self-Help
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: The author offers sixty-five strategies for self-improvement and achieving goals.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Yes, I'll try most anything if it's offered as a freebie. This self-help guide delivers exactly what the title promises: a series of strategies and suggestions to help improve one's life while becoming happier and more productive. Like many such guides, the advice sounds so quick and easy that it's a wonder anyone still leads an unhappy, unfulfilled existence; in other words, what Eastwood sums up in a single glib paragraph often involves dedication and hard work to actually implement in one's life, an effort glossed over in the slick packaging. The same basic advice can be found in pretty much any self-help manual, with different emphasis and phrasing. Still, it reads fast, and it was free when I downloaded it. It gets Okay marks for being precisely what it states it is - no more, and no less. (I've been misled enough to appreciate such honesty in advertizing.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Motivation Myth (Mattison Grey and Jonathan Manske) - My Review
The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life (Suze Orman) - My Review

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wolfwing (Ruby Andrews)

Wolfwing
(The Lycanthra Chronicles, Book 1)
Ruby Andrews
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**+ (Bad/Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Once, Audacia was a hero in the gladiator rings of the New Roman Empire, known throughout the stars. But her mixed Lycanthran blood, coupled with an affair with a high-ranking general, doomed her. Convicted for violating the Empire's laws against interspecies relations, she was sent to a remote penal colony, there to waste away in obscurity... or so it was hoped.
Audacia managed to escape, with some unexpected help from two unlikely allies. Antonius, an illiterate con man from the streets of New Rome, and Marius, a high-ranked nobleman sentenced for treasonous associations and anti-imperial sentiments, were themselves prisoners aboard a transport ship until disaster gave them their own shot at freedom. The uneasy trio only thought to stick together so long as need dictated - until they stumble across a plot that cuts straight to the core of the corrupt New Roman Empire, one that may threaten the peace of the entire known galaxy.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This story starts on a great, highly imaginative note, establishing an interstellar Roman Empire that has absorbed entire star systems and species. With high action and an old-school space opera/adventure feel, I enjoyed the ride. Unfortunately, that momentum sputtered out. Characters tend to sudden shifts in mood and motivation, often pausing to explain things in ways that derail the story. Their actions feel stilted, the dialog often unnatural and forced. The story itself starts unraveling at about the halfway point, with coincidences and leaps of logic that, even given the wild space-opera premise, just left me rolling my eyes more than once. By the end, I could no longer care: with both danger and salvation falling out of the starlit void into the characters' laps, what was the point of worrying over the climax? I found the universe here intriguing, and I saw glimmers of promise, but - with heroes that degenerated into caricatured puppets and a plot that just plain made no sense - I couldn't quite muster the interest for even a solid Okay rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Furies of Calderon (Jim Butcher) - My Review
Larklight (Philip Reeve) - My Review
The Dragonback Adventures (Timothy Zahn) - My Review

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Make Money From Home: How to Become a Non-Medical Home-Based Transcriptionist (April Hodson)

Make Money From Home: How to Become a Non-Medical Home-Based Transcriptionist
April Hodson
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Business/Employment
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Everyone could use some extra money, but most work-at-home "opportunities" tend to be scams or spam. Transcription is a legitimate job that can, indeed, be done at home. All you need to get started is a computer, a word processor, and being willing to learn. The author explains the field of transcription, from required skills to lists of legitimate companies hiring at-home workers.
A Kindle-exclusive edition.

REVIEW: I've read a few of these Kindle "make a fortune in your spare time" titles. This one actually feels legitimate, describing a real job in a real field with real demand. Hodson does a good job explaining what transcriptionists do, what's expected of them, and how to explore employment options. She even touches on tax issues for self-employed workers. There is no promise of a fortune for nothing; transcription is a job, like any other, and the people who make good money are the ones who put in the time and produce good work. Free updates ensure that the companies linked in the Resources section stay current, no matter when you download this eBook.
The only downside I can think of is a lack of discussion about voice-recognition software's potential impact on the field. Many years ago, when I studied to be a medical transcriptionist, Dragon and its kin were considered potential job security threats, though that threat was balanced with a need for competent proofreaders to correct mistakes. Other than that oversight, I found this informative and inspiring, definitely a cut above the usual Kindle business book.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Moonlighter's Guide to Online Writing for Immediate Income (Connie Brentford) - My Review
Making a Living Without a Job (Barbara J. Winter) - My Review

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Shadow of Black Wings (James Calbraith)

The Shadow of Black Wings
(The Year of the Dragon series, Book 1)
James Calbraith
Flying Squid
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: Just out of the Academy, young Bran struggles to determine what to do with his life. He has little magical aptitude, and his loyalty to his undersized dragon mount, Emrys, limits his career options as a dragon rider. The last thing he expected was to follow his oft-absent father onto the seas, seeing the world from the deck of a magic-powered ship... but an unusual encounter leads him to a strange legacy left by his grandfather, items obtained from the legendary, isolated realm of Yamato halfway around the world. Seized by an obsession, Bran cannot rest until he unravels the mysteries of the artifacts and sees this lost domain, and its elusive dragons, for himself.
In Yamato, an ageless empire finds itself on the brink of disaster. Though the all-powerful Mikado and other Edo officials try to pretend that they are well and truly isolated, that the world beyond their nation is of no concern, the winds of change can be felt throughout the land. A young priestess with fiery hair and the samurai-trained daughter of a disgraced noble house, one of the few in Yamato to study the ways of the barbarian Western wizards, soon find themselves at the heart of their island nation's looming power struggles.
As ancient darkness wakes and long-forgotten dangers roam freely, East and West are about to collide.

REVIEW: The blurb at Amazon boasts how this series has been compared to Tolkien, an implied seal of excellence praising Calbraith's intricate fantasy world. There is, in my experience, a fine line between building a world and boring a reader... a line that this book all too often crosses. Clearly, the author has constructed an intricate, elaborate fantasy Earth, based loosely on global history and heavily infused with various magicks. Unfortunately, explaining this world to the reader often takes precedence over presenting an interesting story or sympathetic characters. Even cutting out the history and magic lessons, the plot moves at a glacial pace, starting with a cliche (the bullied boy at school with a distant, distinguished father whose shadow smothers him) and building to a non-event ending, not conclusive enough to let this book stand on its own yet not interesting enough to count as a proper cliffhanger. I saw glimmers of promise through the fog of names and nationalities and other clutter, but never felt a connection with Calbraith's world or his characters... and neither proved engaging enough to convince me to spring for Book 2.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Temeraire series (Naomi Novik) - My Review
Arcana Universalis (Chris J. Randolph) - My Review
Serpent of Time (Eugene Woodbury) - My Review

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Two Princesses of Bamarre (Gail Carson Levine)

The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Gail Carson Levine
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: The daughters of King Lionel of Bamarre could not be more different. Elder Princess Meryl yearns for adventure, determined to challenge every last ogre, specter, gryphon, and dragon that plagues the kingdom. Princess Addie can't even confront a spider. Despite their differences, they love each other dearly... so when Meryl succumbs to the Gray Death, Addie can scarcely contain her terror. Nobody has ever survived the plague, even with the help of elven healers; it is said that the fairies might know a cure, but nobody has seen them in centuries. Determined to save her sister, timid Addie screws up her courage and sets forth on her own quest.

REVIEW: Not a perfect story, this nevertheless entertains. Addie makes an atypical hero, especially in a genre where women tend to be either fainting damsels in distress or tomboys chafing at society's constraints. She doesn't want to be brave, but fear of failure trumps her fear of adventure. Levine crafts a magical, if lightweight, fantasy kingdom, with just enough history and heft to it for a good adventure yarn. I particularly enjoyed her take on dragons, distinctly inhuman beings seemingly cursed by their own conflicting needs and instincts. The story itself moves at a fair pace, building up to a tense finale and an ending somewhere between happy and bittersweet. It kept me reading for a full afternoon, which is more than I can say for some grown-up stories I've read lately.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Bright Shadow (Avi) - My Review
Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine) - My Review
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede) - My Review

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Clutter Antidote: The Ultimate Guide to Decluttering and Organizing Your Home (Caitlin Kaur)

Clutter Antidote: The Ultimate Guide to Decluttering and Organizing Your Home
Caitlin Kaur
Better Life Publishers
Nonfiction, General Nonfiction
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Broken and dusty kitchen appliances, inherited knick-knacks, moth-eaten sweaters, obsolete paperwork... the way humans accumulate clutter, one might suspect we descended from packrats. It's more than just a nuisance and an eyesore; clutter creates stress, fire hazards, and can sometimes give way to outright hoarding compulsions. The author offers advice for cleaning up your household and getting ahead of the creeping clutter.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Coming from a long line of human packrats, I can relate to the stresses caused by clutter. Sometimes, it can seem overwhelming. This eBook offers quick and simple advice on recognizing clutter, letting go of junk (even sentimental junk), and creating organizational habits to keep it from coming back. She even discusses proper storage for clothes and other essentials. At only 32 pages, it reads fast. (Unfortunately, it failed to address the problem of household members who refuse to join the decluttering crusade, but I suspect that's a problem for a whole 'nother eBook...)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Mental FOCUS Training Secrets (Nathan Cadbury) - My Review
Stash Hour Swag - 100+ Secret Hiding Places (Tarrin P. Lupo) - My Review

Friday, December 7, 2012

102 SOLUTIONS TO COMMON WRITING MISTAKES (Bob Mayer)

102 SOLUTIONS TO COMMON WRITING MISTAKES
Bob Mayer
Who Dares Wins Publishing
Nonfiction, Writing
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: A successful author offers some advice for dealing with the many pitfalls and problems between writers and their dreams.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: As indicated by the title, Mayer tackles 102 issues that trip up newcomers (and some more seasoned authors, from time to time.) Overall, his advice seems sensible and sound, backed by his own experiences and those of others. A few of his mistakes seemed to overlap, and might have been condensed. The problem that cost it a star in the ratings, though, was the formatting. Misplaced paragraph breaks split sentences in half, while elsewhere sections ran together without eye-friendly hard return spaces between them. There were also several spots where the author intended to cross-link to other mistakes/solutions, yet apparently never got around to actually adding them, leaving generic "??" tags in the text. Also, writing the title in all-caps makes me feel like I'm being yelled at; I know the author has a military background, but I didn't expect a drill sergeant to be shouting writing advice at me. In addition to making this eBook look unpolished, these formatting errors run counter to his own advice on being sure to properly format your work. Aside from that, it's not a bad little read. I just found myself getting too distracted by the poor presentation.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) (Jack M. Bickham) - My Review
Slow Your Prose (James W. Lewis) - My Review
Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass) - My Review

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November Site Update

The previous seven reviews are now archived and crosslinked at Brightdreamer Books.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TIme Treasure (Sheila Raye)

Time Treasure
(The McFey Treasures series, Book 1)
Sheila Raye
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: McFey family patriarch J.R. was a dreamer, forever roving the high seas in search of lost treasures and forgotten artifacts. He even named his children after the characters in Peter Pan. After their mother died, he raised them on his salvage ship, the Neverland, in the hopes that McFey Treasures would become a family business. But he forgot that dreams don't pay bills, and children often lose their way as they grow up.
Years later, Tina Belle remains aboard the Neverland, the last McFey pursuing her father's dream. Her brothers have become the "lost boys," drifting into their own lives. They only return to help out after J.R.'s death left her and the family business foundered in an ocean of debt... each hoping she, too, will finally grow up and leave the impossible dream of the Neverland behind her. But she has no intention of abandoning her father's legacy, especially when his chief rival stands ready to erase that legacy once and for all. She has one last shot at glory, if she can find a shipwreck worth attention from her temporary sponsors. In short, Tina Belle McFey needs a miracle... but she wasn't counting on one like Captain André Marin.
Bound to the seas and his ship, the Trident, by a centuries-old curse, Marin and his crew live as ghosts. Only the love of a virtuous woman can win Marin's freedom, and the freedom of his crew... but, in four hundred years, only two women have even heard his call. The first died in tragedy. Belle doesn't want love - she has no time for it, especially not from a man who's as good as a ghost. She only wants help to find a treasure and save her family.
Miracles and curses often go hand-in-hand. For Tina Belle and Captain Marin, love may prove to be the most elusive miracle, and greatest curse, of all.

REVIEW: As a romance, there were certain givens about this plot, such as both lead characters being blessed by an abundance of good looks and unfulfilled passions. The overall story arc, too, had a certain genre inevitability to it. Still, for all that, I found this a decent read. Tina Belle is no fainting flower, to be easily manipulated by the captain's wiles. André, too, has to do some growing up and learning, as his attempts to seduce a modern woman force him to consider his own motives, and even the reasons he was cursed to begin with. The backdrops of rivalries, treasure diving, and lost lore add interest beyond the bedroom, as do the gifts and limitations of the Trident's cursed half-existence - the ship can sail through time and touch on mortal dreams, abilities Tina quickly learns to exploit to track down treasures even as Marin lures her with more personal pleasures. As for the inevitable sex and romance, they proved suitably steamy. If the prologue drug, if the McFey brothers sometimes were hard to keep straight in my head, and if I wondered whether there might have been more done with Marin's crew to mirror the conflicting interests and personalities aboard the Neverland, I still considered it reasonably satisfying. (It was also a free download when I grabbed it for my Kindle. That rarely hurts a rating.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Inscription (Pam Binder) - My Review
The Liveship Traders trilogy (Robin Hobb) - My Review
Shelly's Second Chance (L B Swan and Hope Chandler) - My Review

Monday, November 19, 2012

How I Published My Book And Sold Thousands of Copies (Kenneth Tingle)

How I Published My Book And Sold Thousands of Copies
Kenneth Tingle
Kenneth Tingle, publisher
Nonfiction, Writing
*** (Okay)

 
DESCRIPTION: Many people dream of becoming published writers, but few are willing to put in the hard work it takes to make that dream a reality. Tingle, a self-published author, explains how he made his own success story.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I had to laugh a little, reading this: Tingle's advice focuses almost exclusively on self-publishing and promoting physical printed books, first through local channels and then branching outward, yet this is an eBook-exclusive title. Maybe that's why some of this material felt a little dated, despite the modern format. (How does one leave a promotional copy of an eBook in the downtown barber shop? Are mass faxings, especially faxings with an admittedly deceptive premise, really a viable advertizing format these days?) Still, it's hard to argue with the sales figures he claims to have enjoyed using these tactics. His advice is fairly straightforward, if a little simplified. I can't say it spoke to me particularly, but it might help others.

You Might Also Enjoy:
You Are A Writer (So Start Acting Like One) (Jeff Goins) - My Review
Write Good or Die (Scott Nicholson, editor) - My Review
Your First Novel (Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb) - My Review

Drawing People (Joumana Medlej)

Drawing People
Joumana Medlej
Majnouna
Nonfiction, Art
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Learning to draw the human figure is one of the most complex tasks of any artist. The subject matter is further complicated by the wide variety of proportions, skin tones, and facial features of the many races of Mankind. The author/artist breaks down the subject into simple parts, including notes on many ethnotypes.

REVIEW: Geared at comic artists and illustrators, Medlej's book sometimes seems too simplistic, with basic line drawings and simple captions. However, she packs plenty of information into this volume. If such subjects as muscle and bone anatomy - staples of most human figure drawing books - are short-changed, it's more than made up for by the extensive notes on human ethnotypes, the most detailed breakdown of the subject I've ever seen in an art book. This may not be the only human drawing book you'll need, but it's well worth a place in any artist's library.
Incidentally, this title does not seem to be available through Amazon; it can only be purchased through the author's website at Majnouna.com.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Constructive Anatomy (George B. Bridgman) - My Review
Human Anatomy Made Amazingly Easy (Christopher Hart) - My Review
Figure Drawing Without a Model (Ron Tiner) - My Review

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Coyote's Daughter (Corie Weaver)

Coyote's Daughter
(The New Legends of the Southwest series, Book 1)
Corie Weaver
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Maggie never wanted to move to Albuquerque. The New Mexico desert and a neighborhood full of strangers make poor substitutes for the ocean beach and her old friends. But, of course, as a 12-year-old she didn't get a say in the matter. She's happy that her mother gets to work her dream job, but that doesn't make her summer any easier.
While out walking her dog, Jack, down to the river, Maggie finds a strange boy with yellow eyes, tangled up in an odd snare. When she helps free him, she makes her first new friend... but Ash is a very peculiar friend, indeed. The village he comes from doesn't appear on any map, and the story he tells - of an evil wizard turning people into crows - doesn't make sense. When Maggie starts dreaming of an old woman and a coyote who walks like a man, she realizes that she's caught up in a story of her own, with dangers and wonders straight out of legend. But how can a modern California girl hope to prevail against an enemy that holds even the trickster Coyote at bay?
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Coyote's Daughter takes the standard modern-kid-stumbles-into-a-magical-adventure formula to the deserts of the American Southwest. Maggie's not always the brightest of heroines, needing to be led through more than one phase of her adventure by the obligatory friendly strangers (a formula staple), but she manages to come through in the end. The Native American trappings lend a little exotic spice to this otherwise lukewarm rendition of a standard story. I've read far worse stories, but I don't expect this one to linger long in my memory.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Sky Coyote (Kage Baker) - My Review
Voices of the Winds: Native American Legends (Margot Edmonds and Ella E. Clark) - My Review
The Leopard's Daughter (Lee Killough) - My Review

Donkey Heart Monkey Mind (Djaffur Chetouane and Rachel Jackson)

Donkey Heart Monkey Mind
Djaffur Chetouane and Rachel Jackson
CPC
Nonfiction, Autobiography/True Life
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: In 1980's Algeria, surviving amid corruption and scarcity takes strength and wits, not to mention choosing friends and enemies with care. For the Berbers, native North Africans suppressed and marginalized by centuries of invaders, life is even more precarious - even their native language is outlawed. Like many young men, Djaffur chafes under these restrictions. He joins fellow Berbers at his university in speaking out against their oppression, and finds himself on the wrong end of a deeply corrupt political machine that thinks nothing of torturing or even murdering its own citizens. Seeing nothing for himself but a future of dirt-poor living and prejudice in his native Algeria, Djaffur determines to flee the country... an escape fraught with false starts, close calls, setbacks, and missteps that nearly cost him his life.

REVIEW: I grabbed this during a freebie Kindle download window; it seemed like a change of pace, and North Africa is one of the many parts of the world I hear mentioned in the news but don't really know that much about. Chetouane paints a grim picture of a world sunk so far into its own corruption that true liberty and reform seem impossible, with attitudes too deeply ingrained in their society to ever be rooted out. Even here, though, one can find glimmers of kindness and even hope if one looks hard enough. His own journey from oppression to freedom sees him on the wrong side of the law more often than not, mostly as a matter of raw survival. I wound up clipping it a half-point because of occasionally thick politics (integral to understanding the full extent of the forces aligned against the Berbers, and the majority of North Africans in general, but still dense enough to trip up the narrative), plus some irritating formatting issues in the Kindle edition. Overall, Chetouane's tale reads like something out of a movie, a story of desperation and depravation and even personal enlightenment, made all the more incredible by the fact that it actually happened.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Sword and the Cross (Fergus Fleming) - My Review
Hidden Libyco-Berber Alphabet (Bob Idjennaden) - My Review

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to Draw Animals (Charles Liedl)

How to Draw Animals
Charles Liedl
Dover
Nonfiction, Art
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Using many reference drawings, this book demonstrates how to draw various animals.

REVIEW: If the description seems simple, it's because this book is too short to merit more words. Indeed, there are only five and a half pages of text... two of them being the table of contents. The rest of the 64 pages are devoted to drawings of animals in various poses. Liedl includes several bird reference drawings, and a few more obscure species and poses, but overall offers nothing here that I haven't found in other animal art books. Still, it was only five dollars brand-new; I got that much out of it, at the very least. A decent addition to any artist's reference collection, this certainly is far from the only animal drawing book you'll ever need.

You Might Also Enjoy:
How to Draw Animals (Jack Hamm) - My Review
Animal Drawing - Anatomy and Action for Artists (Charles R. Knight) - My Review
The Weatherly Guide to Drawing Animals (Joe Weatherly) - My Review

Monday, November 5, 2012

Arcana Universalis: Danse Macabre (Chris J. Randolph)

Arcana Universalis: Danse Macabre
(Arcana Universalis, Part 2)
Chris J. Randolph
Oktopod Digital Press
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Apprentice Caleb's externship aboard the Imperial dragonslayer Ashkalon ended in fiery devastation, when a search mission turned into a trap by dragon-worshippers. He wakes deep in the bowels of the massive, magic-powered starship... but he no longer lives. The ship's necrontier, Aldebaran, has transformed the hapless boy into a revenant, a deathless slave. Part of the invisible army of servants that keep the Ashkalon in fighting trim, Caleb begins to understand the dark side of the empire that the living do not - or will not - see. He also begins to see the possibilities of his new existence. His life, after all, was a series of ill-fated disasters. How much worse could his death be?
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: The second installment in the Arcana Universalis serial novel, it finds its footing sooner and moves faster than the first part. Caleb's world still has many wonders to reveal, but he also gets more of his own story told here. Ironically, his own death finally gives him the courage to take charge of his own life... at least, so much as he's able to, being an inherently disposable slave whose very existence is subject to the necrontier's whim. I'm looking forward to the next part, whenever it's released. (I might even consider paying for it; these first two were freebies when I downloaded them, but I'm becoming invested in the story.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Star Rigger (James A. Carver) - My Review
Arcana Universalis: Terminus (Chris J. Randolph) - My Review
Leviathan (Scott Westerfield) - My Review

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October Site Update

I've archived and cross-linked the previous 6 reviews on the main website, Brightdreamer Books.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rough Draft (Michael Robertson Jr)

Rough Draft
Michael Robertson Jr
MRob Media LLC
Fiction, Horror
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Robert is a popular horror novelist with a playboy reputation. Finn's zombie apocalypse series has made the young man a national name, yet he still lives alone in a basement. Victoria may be the most well-known author of the genre, though she hides her emotions and her identity under the masculine pseudonym Vic. All three, threatened by an unknown blackmailer, make their way to a remote Colorado cabin. To free themselves, all they have to do is collaborate on a story about the nearby ghost town of Pike, a mining community whose residents vanished under mysterious circumstances over a century ago. It's a strange request, made under suspicious circumstances, but it's well within their collective abilities... at least, until they realize that they aren't alone. Lurking just outside the cabin door is a mystery, and a danger, more terrifying than anything they've ever written, plunging them into a story worse than any nightmare.

REVIEW: A fast-paced thriller, Rough Draft caught my attention quickly and held it through most of the book, with only a few lulls. The characters each bring their strengths and weaknesses, as people and authors, to the table, and while Victoria degenerates into an emotional wreck they nevertheless manage to gel into an effective team. Needless to say, the mystery of Pike produces some scary moments, not to mention more than one body. The conclusion, unfortunately, felt a little weak, costing the story a half-star. Otherwise, it was a quick and enjoyable read, just the thing for late October nights.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Devil's Race (Avi) - My Review
Seeing Eye (Jack Ellis) - My Review
The Ghosts of Belfast (Stuart Neville) - My Review

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Digital Writer's Guide to Twitter (Tracy O'Connor and the Digital Writer)

The Digital Writer's Guide to Twitter
Tracy O'Connor and The Digital Writer (Sean Platt)
Sterling and Stone
Nonfiction, Business
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: The social media revolution's impact on how we work and play cannot be overstated. Instead of powerful gatekeepers controlling access, now everyone - from megacorporations to individuals - has an equal voice. For authors, small businesses, and others looking to carve out their own niche, tools like Twitter are too powerful to ignore. But just how do you get started? Let the Digital Writer explain the ins and outs of Twitter, so you can start building your own brand and writing your own success story.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I'm one of the few Americans who has not succumbed to Twitter's charms. I was hoping this title would help me understand the fascination... and, perhaps, understand why I might want to join the Twitterverse if and when I ever get my own writing published. Unfortunately, I walked away little more enlightened than I started. The authors get repetitious, talking in circles and catchphrases while stating (and restating, and re-restating) similar points under different headings. They also contradict themselves a few times. While they point out just how powerful a strong Twitter presence can be for a small business, they failed to convince me that it's worth my while to try. Granted, I'm not the most social butterfly in the garden of Life, but when you start talking about the necessity of mastering extra programs and apps to manage your accounts should you "succeed" at Twitter, requiring an investment of time and energy that can be put to use elsewhere (such as, say, writing) you lose me.
I'm not discounting the power of social media, nor am I discounting the value of books like this. I just failed to find it relevant to my life, online or otherwise, at this time. Since I can't honestly say I was the intended target audience, I gave this one a break on an Okay rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Motivation Myth (Mattison Grey and Jonathan Manske) - My Review
Write a F*$%ing Book Already (Jim Kukral) - My Review
Profit from the eBook Revolution (Bob Perry) - My Review

Monday, October 22, 2012

Odin's Gateways (Katie Gerrard)

Odin's Gateways
Katie Gerrard
Avalonia
Nonfiction, Magic
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Nordic runes are more than an ancient written alphabet. Said to have come from the great god Odin, each rune contains not just a sound, but a spiritual message and magical energy, powers that endure to this day. Gerrard explains the origins and mystical properties of Nordic runes, and how to harness their potency in modern spellcraft and rituals.

REVIEW: Part of my ongoing efforts to spark fantasy story ideas, I downloaded this title hoping for both information and inspiration. Runes, after all, are a fantasy staple, if one often without roots in real tradition. Gerrard introduces the reader to both the cultural and the spiritual aspects of runes in a way that even beginners or non-believers can understand. She doesn't try to go into the complicated, sometimes contradictory histories of the various runic alphabets (or futharks) and the practices that have arisen around them, instead referring interested readers to an extensive bibliography. While she naturally mentions her own impressions and experiences, she emphasises that true runic work, like many magical traditions, tends to be an individual experience, requiring the practitioner to explore and experience on their own. Considering my iffy luck with freebies, I was pleasantly surprised here.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Illustrated Book of Signs and Symbols (Miranda Bruce-Whitford) - My Review
The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Spells and Magic (The Diagram Group) - My Review
The Complete Book of Amulets and Talismans (Migene González-Wippler) - My Review

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (the Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race (John Stewart)

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (the Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race
John Stewart, David Javerbaum, Rory Albanese, Steve Bodow, Josh Lieb, editors
Grand Central Publishing
Nonfiction, Humor
***** (Great)


DESCRIPTION: Humans represent the pinnacle of evolution, the only species to claw its way from prey to apex predator, from mere beast to cognizant being... from merely a part of the natural world to its number one enemy, and ultimate destroyer.
Yes, we finally succeeded. We managed to do to ourselves what we did to the dodo, the Caspian tiger, and the 8-track. (What can we say? Driving species to extinction was a popular hobby.)
But we weren't all bad. We had some good ideas, now and again, and deep down beneath all of our vices was the potential (never realized) to become forces for good, not unlike those gods we liked to think we resembled. For future aliens who come to investigate the ruins left behind by our train wreck of a lifespan, this book offers a glimpse of what life was like on planet Earth... you know, before we self-destructed.

REVIEW: Written by the brilliant comedy team behind TV's The Daily Show, this book tackles the entire planet and the whole of human history. Not unlike a DK Eyewitness book, it keeps its information (and its jokes) short and sweet, never overstaying its welcome on any given topic. Needless to say, the easily-offended or humor-impaired would do well to steer clear. For the rest of us, this is a hilarious page-turner, generating more laughs per page than I've had for many a moon.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Salmon of Doubt (Douglas Adams) - My Review
Duh!: The Stupid History of the Human Race (Bob Fenster) - My Review
Welcome to Jesusland! (Formerly the United States of America) ("Landover Baptist Church") - My Review

Thursday, October 4, 2012

All My Friends Are Dead (Avery Monsen and Jory John)

All My Friends Are Dead
Avery Monsen and Jory John
Chronicle Books
Fiction, Humor
***** (Great)


DESCRIPTION: Friends. Everyone needs them, but not everyone can keep them. A chicken, a dinosaur, an old man, and more lament their lack of friends.

REVIEW: I finally cornered this book at the library long enough to read it. Just as hilarious as the sequel (All My Friends Are Still Dead), it's a joyous romp through the lives of the lonely. Great fun!

You Might Also Enjoy:
Children Make Terrible Pets (Peter Brown) - My Review
The Basic Instructions comic collections (Scott Meyer) - My Review
All My Friends Are Still Dead (Avery Monsen and Jory John) - My Review

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Writer's Block: The How-To Survival Guide for Writers (Larnette Phillips)

Writer's Block: The How-To Survival Guide for Writers
Larnette Phillips
Amazon Digital Services (?)
Nonfiction, Writing
* (Terrible)


DESCRIPTION: An author offers advice, exercises, and more to help writers overcome obstacles and get published.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I don't expect it's a coincidence that this title has apparently vanished after being offered as a freebie download. (It vanished before I could even confirm the publisher - never a great sign.) This isn't so much an eBook as a collection of unfinished notes. With terrible, confused formatting and little to no logical flow of ideas, I barely managed to crawl through to the end. The slapdash air made me question much of her advice, and I can't say I feel reassured after a quick Amazon search of the author's other published works. There's nothing here that cannot be learned from other sources - even free sources. If it ever turns up online again, don't waste your time.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Secrets to Writing Your First eBook and Getting It Online (Haphiza Baboolal) - My Review
You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) (Jeff Goins) - My Review
Slow Your Prose (James W. Lewis) - My Review

Saturday, September 29, 2012

September Site Update

The previous 6 book reviews are now archived and cross-linked on the main website at Brightdreamer Books.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Survival 101: The Essential Guide to Saving Your Own Life in a Disaster (Marcus Duke)

Survival 101: The Essential Guide to Saving Your Own Life in a Disaster
Marcus Duke
Galleon Publishing
Nonfiction, General Nonfiction
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, riots... No matter where you are, chaos is only one disaster away. It's not a matter of if, but when. Whether it's a temporary disaster or a major national or global collapse, a little preparation can go a long ways toward ensuring your safety, health, and survival. The author explains the basics of disaster preparedness, and the things everybody should have on hand just in case the worst happens.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This book is exactly what it states it is: a very basic primer in how to survive during troubled times. In truth, it's more of an introduction than a complete reference on its own. Duke explains a few basics - several ways to purify water, for instance, and the necessity of fire in any situation - but refers the reader elsewhere for more in-depth discussions. He stops short of "armed bunker in the hills" territory, keeping most of his advice practical for the average person needing to survive the average interruption in civilization (such as that caused by natural disasters.) It's short, and it reads fast, with some interesting information that more of us should probably be thinking about.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Field Guide to the Apocalypse (Meghann Marco) - My Review
Guts (Gary Paulsen) - My Review
Life as We Knew It (Susan Beth Pfeffer) - My Review

Monday, September 24, 2012

Aftershock (S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart)

Aftershock
(The Rise of the Unseelie series, Book 1)
S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart
Ravynheart Publishing
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)


DESCRIPTION: In the hidden fey realm of the Mounds, miles underground, the long struggle between Light and Dark, Seelie and Unseelie, has finally ended. But some forces cannot be reconciled, and some unions bring only disaster. Jhaer, ruler of the Unseelie Elite, tried to warn his people of the fatal consequences, but nobody wanted to hear... until the Mounds collapsed and the All-Mother perished, a catastrophe that Jhaer alone survived.
On the Earth's surface, Jhaer vows he will not be the last of his people. Learning to sustain himself via ley lines, he is reborn as Donovan, determined to unite fey exiles and half-breeds in a new Sidhe court. It won't be easy - most have no training, and predators, from vampires to wizards, constantly prey on their undefended magic - but survival never is... and Jhaer-turned-Donovan is nothing if not a born survivor.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A short story kicking off a new urban fantasy series, Aftershock wastes little time on setup, plunging the reader straight into the fall of the Mounds and the doomed struggle of Jhaer to save even his enemies from utter destruction. Nevertheless, despite the traumas I witnessed Jhaer endure, I never felt a connection with him, or with any of the other characters. Things happen, but with minimal follow-through. Characters are introduced, but never stay in view long enough to care about. The whole story reads like a movie preview or a series of internet clips, enough to provide a taste of the action without absorbing the audience. As a stated introduction to a new series, by the end I should've been invested in the characters and the mytharc. Instead, I barely knew the characters, and the mytharc left me indifferent. While I've read far worse, this is a series that can unwind without me.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer) - My Review
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan) - My Review
Bedlam's Bard (Mercedes Lackey with Ellen Guon) - My Review

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How to Manage Your Money When You Don't Have Any (Erik Wecks)

How to Manage Your Money When You Don't Have Any
Erik Wecks
Erik Wecks, publisher
Nonfiction, Finance
**** (Good)


DESCRIPTION: Money problems plague most every household, even those who seem to have it all. Debt has become an acceptable way of life for too many people, who willingly trade future financial disaster for immediate relief. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or an accounting degree to figure out that you can't get out of a financial hole if you keep digging, but in today's economy, with a weak job market and stagnant wages, there's no other way to get by. Or is there? Backed by years of professional and personal experience, Wecks offers real solutions for real people - solutions that don't promise yachts or mansions, but the even greater reward of financial freedom.

REVIEW: Like many people, I struggle to get the most out of my paychecks without sinking into the black hole of debt. Like the author, I've looked at the programs offered by those financial gurus you see on TV and found myself alienated: I don't make enough to play the investment games they often teach, and I just can't buy the implied promise of diamonds and gold awaiting me if I only follow their plans. Wecks wrote this book, as the title implies, for those of us who simply want help keeping our heads above water in a world that increasingly accepts the indentured servitude of endless debt as just part of living the American dream. There are no pie-in-the-sky offers to grant untold wealth to part-time cashiers or erase bad habits in thirty seconds flat. Financial stability takes hard work, not to mention a complete overhaul of one's relationship with money. Every once in a while, the writing gets a little too clever for its own good, and occasionally it repeats itself, but overall I found it informative and helpful.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Stash Your Swag - 100+ Secret Hiding Places (Tarrin P. Lupo) - My Review
The Laws of Money, the Lessons of Life (Suze Orman) - My Review
Making a Living Without a Job (Barbara J. Winter) - My Review

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A SURVIVAL GUIDE: Living with Dinosaurs in the Jurassic Period (Dougal Dixon)

A SURVIVAL GUIDE: Living with Dinosaurs in the Jurassic Period
Dougal Dixon
Smart Business Press
Nonfiction, Dinosaurs
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Studying fossils and geology can only teach a person so much about the ancient past. What would it really have been like, to actually walk the world millions of years ago, seeing long-extinct animals roaming an unrecognizable landscape full of unfamiliar plants? As part of a hypothetical team of time-traveling colonizers, embark upon an unforgettable journey to an alien world: the Jurassic age on planet Earth.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: An interesting concept, it attempts to take the dry science out of paleontology. Unfortunately, Dixon starts out on a bad foot by nearly drowning the reader in the dry science of plate tectonics, followed by repetitive "journeys" to the chosen colony spot (the Morrison formation of North America) from various parts of the world - all of which only repeated the facts stated in the previous chapter, that global geography in the Jurassic was radically different from modern times. Over the course of the book, the dense sediments of science slowly sank to the bottom, leaving the original concept - understanding the Jurassic age in human terms, and learning how to extract the building blocks of civilization from what is essentially alien soil - to shine through. The included illustrations probably looked better in color, though they were helpful in clarifying some points made in the text; I actually would have liked more of them. In the end, I found it to be an intriguing idea, if occasionally slow.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dinosaurs (Carl Mehling, editor) - My Review
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs (Dr. David Norman) - My Review
Pterosaurs: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Flying Reptiles (Dr. Peter Wellenhoffer) - My Review

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Abarat (Clive Barker)

Abarat
(The Abarat series, Book 1)
Clive Barker
HarperTrophy
Fiction, YA Fantasy
** (Bad)


DESCRIPTION: Candy Quackenbush lives in the most boring town in Minnesota - the encyclopedias in the library even confirm it. Aside from being the top producer of chicken meat, Chickentown holds no other points of interest... and Candy has one more day to finish her class assignment of finding ten "interesting" things about the place. She hates this place, just as she hates her life, living in this nowhere town with an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother too cowed to defend her own offspring. There must be more to look forward to than an eternity of this!
After failing her assignment, Candy finally snaps. She runs out on school, on home, on the town itself, heading into the trackless prairie grasses - and straight into the path of a very peculiar fellow. John Mischief is eight brothers in one, with seven little heads atop antlers sprouting from his skull. Through him, Candy finds herself pulled into a strange and magical world, the archipelago of Abarat. She always wanted to leave dreary old Chickentown behind her, but Abarat is no Wonderland. Danger lurks behind every wonder, and some of the attention she attracts could well be the death of her.

REVIEW: When modern galleries feature bizarre items in their displays, such as urinals or trash cans, people often ask: is it really art? Its presence in an art gallery would appear to qualify it as art, even if often it seems unrecognizable as such. Likewise, as I read Abarat, I found myself constantly wondering if it was really a story; the fact that it appears to be printed on paper and bound inside a cover would appear to qualify it as one, though at several points it seemed unrecognizable as such.
With more surreality than Alice in Wonderland but none of the whimsical turns of phrase, Abarat presents a bland heroine who wanders from one bizarre situation to the next, meeting all manner of improbable beings with little more than an occasional hint of wonder. Unlike Alice, she doesn't even have the excuse of being in a dream; she's wide awake the whole time, yet seems largely unfazed by a man with little heads living on his antlers or fishlike creatures playing cards on a rolling ocean. (There is an explanation for some of her accepting behavior, but it felt entirely unsatisfactory and, frankly, like a cop-out.) You would think that a modern kid would be a little more incredulous, or a little more cynical, pointing out the ridiculous impracticalities she witnesses in her journeys, but Candy just drifts through it all, so happy to be out of Chickentown that she hardly gives any of it a second thought. The plot drifts with her, only barely establishing a greater mytharc about impending threats to the islands of the Arabat... a mytharc that's left entirely unresolved by the end, save a mention that I'd reached the conclusion of the "first" book. Apparently, that revelation was supposed to excuse the wandering nature of the plot: I wasn't reading a whole story, but merely an introduction. If I'd known that I wouldn't even be rewarded with a conclusion, I wouldn't have bothered slogging through to the bitter end. That cost this book the half-star that its admittedly-imaginative setting almost earned it.
Much like that peculiar modern art that leaves me scratching my head more often than not, I can only say about Abarat that I may not know art, but I know what I like... and what I don't like.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Best of Lewis Carroll (Lewis Carroll) - My Review
Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman) - My Review
Un Lun Dun (China Miéville) - My Review