Saturday, June 30, 2012

June Site Update

I've archived and cross-linked the previous 10 reviews on the main site, Brightdreamer Books.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Siege Therapy (Steve Thorn)

Siege Therapy
Steve Thorn
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Sci-Fi
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Jake doesn't remember the accident. All he can do is endure its aftermath, as his paralyzed body is shuffled about the hospital. Worse, the doctors who saved his life discovered a malignant brain tumor, requiring special treatment. It's not all bad, though; part of his therapy involves a VR game, Hallowed Kingdoms, in which he rules over a small village and grows it into a powerful city. But there's a shadow in this game, a nagging feeling that something isn't as it should be... either with the simulation, or with himself.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This short story sounded intriguing, with VR simulations used as virtual therapy. Unfortunately, it not only feels far too long, but it concludes on such a rotten note that it spoils whatever interest I may have had with it. Nothing is truly resolved or even explained, except that my sympathies for any of the characters were entirely wasted. Ultimately, it was a waste of time.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Devil's Race (Avi) - My Review
Others See Us (William Sleator) - My Review
Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne) - My Review

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mental FOCUS Training Secrets (Nathan Cadbury)

Mental FOCUS Training Secrets
Nathan Cadbury
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Self-Help
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Everyone knows that setting goals and working towards them is the only real way to get anywhere in life... but this world is just so full of distractions that it's tough to figure out where, or how, to begin. It's patently impossible to focus 100% of your energy 100% of the time. The good news is, you don't need to - you can accomplish anything you set your mind to by breaking it down into smaller, shorter goals. Learn how to rein in your mind and harness that scattered energy so that it works for you, not against you.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Like most self-help books, this starts by telling the reader something they already know (they need to learn how to focus), explaining why it will behoove them to pay attention (focus brings great rewards), then attempts to teach them what they need to know to change their lives for the better. Also, like most self-help books, Cadbury makes it look easy in print (or eInk.) He repeats himself for emphasis, perhaps more often than necessary, and includes many vaguely motivational quotes to fire up the reader. While not particularly ground-breaking, Mental FOCUS Training Secrets does just what it sets out to do: it explains the benefits of a focused mind, and outlines a plan to transform a scattered brain into a more effective, task-accomplishing machine.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely) - My Review
The Motivation Myth (Mattison Grey and Jonathan Manske) - My Review
Hocus Pocus, You're Focused! (Arthur Laud) - My Review

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The 19 Dragons (SM Reine)

The 19 Dragons
SM Reine
SM Reine, publisher
Fiction, Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Long ago, the world worshipped dragons. Each of these immortal beings was a pillar for part of the Earth, their personalities as varied as their domains. Then greed and forgetfulness overcame mankind, and the slayers came to pierce their hides and plunder their hoards. So the dragons took on mortal bodies, rebirthing as themselves so long as the sacred Device was in their possession. Thus they could hide from the slayers and still watch over their world.
But not all dragons were content with this fate. Nor were they content to let a world that had forgotten them - had actively turned on them - continue to live in peace.
Now, as war shakes the world, great automatons and dirigibles from the East raining fiery devastation upon the city of New Haven, the Device is stolen. One by one, the dragons fall - and, with them, the corners of the earth whose pillars they formed. Even as the survivors race to unearth the traitor in their midst, pieces of the world vanish into the eternal Void. Should the last dragon fall, the world itself shall end, and not even dragons may be reborn from the nothing that remains.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This intrigued me with its mixture of dragon lore and steampunk. Reine's world is bleak, torn by a senseless war and directed by those who merely use Man's short-sighted and destructive instincts to further their own selfish ends. With 20 chapters, nearly one of the titular 19 dragons falls in each, a long and increasingly dim death march for a world too caught up in its own struggles to care. Despite the darkness, I found it interestingly different... until close to the end. Reine then abandons her otherwise-original ideas and pulls a handful of plot twists out of the Void, never quite explaining how the apocalyptic climax resolved anything before segueing to a too-hopeful and happy (and pointless) conclusion. She also gets too clever for her own good with the formatting, especially during the finale. Disappointing.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Airborn series (Kenneth Oppel) - My Review
Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) - My Review
The Leviathan trilogy (Scott Westerfield) - My Review

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Object Serial (Winston Emerson)

The Object Serial
(Episodes 1, 2, and 3)
Winston Emerson
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Sci-Fi
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Today, in Louisville, Kentucky...
Smart, shy Lillia lives with her brother Drake and sister Kate in foster care. Used to being treated like dirt by classmates and foster parents, she was barely phased when the drunken, leering college boy tried following her home.
Danny woke up after an all-night bender on a stranger's doorstep, half-covered in his own vomit. His cell's almost out of juice, his friends are nowhere in sight, and he's lost his wallet along with his short-term memory.
Meredith just started as a cop three days ago... three days that have made her reconsider her chosen field and city of residence. The other cops don't like her, the people don't like her, and she just nearly ran over a citizen fleeing an attacker. And Day Three isn't even over yet...
Sherman lives on the streets, trying to avoid trouble as he begs for change from a population that considers him invisible, either because of his black skin or his homelessness. When the rich aren't ignoring or belittling him, street gangs are robbing him of the few dollars he manages to scrape together.
These lives, and many others, would weave through any normal day on the streets of Louisville, briefly entangling before going their separate ways. But then the Object appeared. A great, looming sphere in the sky, something about it seems to bring out the worst in people. Within minutes, chaos consumes the city, panic gripping the populace in waves of riots and shootings. Wherever the Object came from, whatever it wants, Louisville will never be the same...
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: The first part in a sci-fi serial series, it promised apocalyptic/dystopian paranoia and sci-fi mystery. (And, yes, it was free when I downloaded it.) Unfortunately, the sci-fi part of the story hardly comes into play: in these first three parts, the titular Object simply shows up and watches the chaos its arrival creates, without tangibly affecting anything. That leaves dystopian paranoia to carry the day... a task at which it fails, owing to an utter lack of an actual story. Maybe Emerson establishes that in the next installment, but this fragmentary introduction simply features a bunch of mostly-unlikeable people in miserable situations whose lives only become more miserable due to circumstances beyond their control. There just plain isn't enough here to interest me, let alone convince me to keep following this listless, unpleasant slog through the Object's shadow.

You Might Also Enjoy:
When the Tripods Came (John Christopher) - My Review
Life as We Knew It (Susan Beth Pfeffer) - My Review
The Visitors trilogy (Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett) - My Review

A Pocket Full of Spells (Ash Stirling)

A Pocket Full of Spells
(The Braeden Wolf series, Book 1)
Ash Stirling
LazyDay Publishing
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: In the gritty, corrupt world of the City, Braeden Wolf scrapes out a lean existence helping those who need help, slaying what needs slaying, and generally finding dangerous scrapes to squeeze through. He's no saint, but he's better than the vampires, demons, and cybernetically-enhanced warlock gangs that roam the streets, unhindered by corrupt cops and mostly ignored by the upper-class power brokers. Braeden finds himself up against a danger the likes of which even he hasn't seen before when he takes on the Bell Street Push, a dangerous gang grown too powerful for anyone's good. It's here that he first meets Isaiah. Wielding powerful spells yet strangely hesitant to use them, Isaiah both puzzles and unnerves Braeden. For one thing, he insists that the Bell Street Push owes its unholy power to "seraphim dust," when anyone knows that seraphim and angels are religious hogwash. For another, despite his calm demeanor, the man must be certifiably insane: why else would he insist on bringing nothing but swords to a gun fight?
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: It sounded like it might be a decent urban fantasy, so when I saw it during a freebie window I downloaded it. Stirling establishes a suitably gritty world, melding cyberpunk with the supernatural, and if it wasn't an entirely original idea, at least it felt solid. Braeden is the typical antihero one might expect to find in such a city, a cigar-smoking, booze-guzzling lone soldier of fortune whose cynical nature can't entirely mask his deeper, ultimately altruistic motivations. Overall, though, I found the story too fragmentary, reading like a few chapters pulled from a larger mytharc; it only resolved the smaller, more immediate plot issues, leaving raw and bleeding edges that clearly ought to bind into a greater body of work. It read decently fast, and mostly held my interest, but ultimately felt like just another gritty urban fantasy series in the making.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Vlad Taltos series (Stephen Brust) - My Review
Finder (Emma Bull) - My Review
Goblintown Justice (Matt Forbeck) - My Review

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Confessions of a Gourmand, or How to Cook a Dragon (Tom Bruno)

Confessions of a Gourmand, or How to Cook a Dragon
Tom Bruno
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: From the depths of the southern Palmlands, where Gorgon queens rule over groves of chocolate more precious than gold, to the great City of Varo, whose money-minded inhabitants have invaded nearly every nook and cranny of the known world while inexplicably favoring a bland and mushroom-heavy diet, from the mountain-dwelling Cyclopes to the nearly-vanished Immortals, the Three Continents are teeming with diverse species, races, dangers, wonders... and flavors. Since his birth to a Shan-Li chef mother and wandering Varonian trader father, young Van's life has been shaped by foods local and exotic, catering to palates rustic and refined. Despite his mother's traditional menus, he becomes obsessed with finding new flavors and new recipes to sate his budding gourmand appetites - almost to the point of ignoring the people and places he holds most dear. His hungers could well spell his doom, as Van finds himself embarking on a long and dangerous journey far from his mother's kitchens into a world all too ready to devour the innocent.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: It isn't often one finds something completely different in fantasy. At its heart, Confessions of a Gourmand has many of the same ingredients one would find in most fantasy adventures: a boy with a missing father and protective mother, a coming-of-age journey filled with exotic wonders, and a world populated with all manner of cultures and races and histories. Bruno puts a fresh spin on this formula with Van's gourmand viewpoint. Every city, every culture new and old, emerging or extinct, takes on a distinctive flavor - literally - as the hero views their strengths and weaknesses through their taste buds. The recipes and discussions of meals (including delicacies, spices, preparation methods, and other sundry details) take on an almost Tolkienian depth, highlighting an important human obsession that often gets glossed over in world building. Not unlike Tolkien, I found my eyes glazing occasionally, as page after page of recipes and related trivia filled the narrative, alongside various character-building tangents that ultimately came to less than their allotted page-count would imply. Still, even though his sword is a kitchen knife and his shield a wok, Van is no less a worthy fantasy adventurer than any other. His recipes are his spellcraft, both endangering him and rescuing him from many a dire situation. Though there is no dark lord to defeat, no dragons to slay (save in a prologue outlining how to prepare the volatile and poisonous beasts for the dinner table), and no treasure or crown awaiting him at the end, he nevertheless manages to have a grand adventure. If the world itself often outshone the plot, if the humor occasionally tended to the absurd, and if Van wasn't always the most sympathetic of characters, I still enjoyed the tale.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Rover (Mel Odom) - My Review
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede) - My Review
Ratatouille - Amazon DVD link

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Killobyte (Piers Anthony)

Piers Anthony
Fiction, Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Walter Toland used to be a beat cop, until an encounter with a vengeful, abusive man left him in a wheelchair. Jobless, virtually immobile, prisoner of a body too damaged to even walk, his real life was as good as over. Then he discovered the emerging world of virtual gaming. With sensory hookups, it provides an immersive, realistic experience as good as - or even better than - anything in reality. He was never much of a gamer before his accident, but in the world of Killobyte he rediscovers the thrills, the fears, the sheer joy of living an active life.
18-year-old Baal Curran plays Killobyte not for the adventure of living, but to flirt with dying. Ostracized from friends and classmates by chronic illness, her heart shattered by the one boy who looked beyond the social stigma, she tells herself she's not suicidal, yet can't help wondering about the many deaths offered by the simulated worlds... and whether any of them can make up her mind to keep living her worthless life.
When Walter and Baal meet in a fantasy adventure simworld of Killobyte, sparks fly... until a hacker named Phreak turns up. He gets his kicks by locking players out of their own log-out commands, effectively trapping them online, while he torments them. Being trapped in the game isn't just a joke for these two players, though - wheelchair-bound Walter needs daily medical assistance, and Baal needs insulin shots to keep from dropping into a diabetic coma. Only Phreak knows the code that would release them... but why should he let his latest toys go? Thus begins a game more serious than any played before on Killobyte's servers, a virtual game whose stakes are literally life and death.

REVIEW: I'm not much of a Piers Anthony fan, but I found this for a buck at Half Price Books. I figured it would be worth a buck to try. Written in 1993, the technology described feels distinctly anachronistic; players immerse in full virtual reality with futuristic prosthetic sensory simulators, yet rely on telephone lines for modem transmissions. But it's hardly Anthony's fault that gaming and internet technology have developed in unanticipated ways. Looking beyond that, the story itself is pretty much what I figured it would be, a relatively simple adventure with characters just deep enough to fill out the roles assigned to them. Several stretches of prolonged backstory and explanatory infodumps bog down the plot. Still, it read fairly fast, without Anthony's usual reliance on pun-heavy humor, and I didn't actively hate anyone (except for the hacker Phreak, naturally.) I paid a dollar for it, and it killed a day. That's about all I asked of it, and it delivered.

You Might Also Enjoy:
God Game (Andrew M. Greeley) - My Review
Caverns of Socrates (Dennis L. McKiernan) - My Review
Dream Park (Larry Niven and Steven Barnes) - My Review

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shadowheart (Tad Williams)

(The Shadowmarch series, Book 4)
Tad Williams
Fiction, Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Midsummer approaches, a night of great celebration and dark portents... a night which draws many eyes and armies to the ancient castle of Southmarch. In the long-ago times, the land beneath the castle saw the last great battle of the gods, when the maimed Crooked imprisoned his fellow deities in perpetual sleep beyond the boundaries of this reality, then sealed the rift with his own dying essence. But Crooked has finally died, succumbing after millennia to his final wounds, leaving the rift vulnerable to those who would seek to exploit its power. But only a madman would ever think they could harness the strength of the sleeping gods, gods whose long exile has driven them more than half mad...
Briony Eddon, with the help of the Syannese Prince Eneas, races to Southmarch, intent on reclaiming her family's throne and paying back the usurper Hendon Tolly for his betrayal. The odds of even reaching the beseiged castle are nigh impossible, but she hasn't lived through the Hell of the past year simply to give up. Too many good lives have been lost, and she has many a blood debt to carve out of Tolly's flesh.
Beyond the Shadowline, in the timeless keep of Qul-na-Qar, Briony's twin brother Barrick can no longer be properly called a mortal. Burdened with the Fireflower, the strange and ancient memories and magicks of the faerie kings, he can scarcely recall his old life, his old family... yet he and the faerie queen Saqri feel the call of Crooked's rift. Unlike mortal men, the Qar have not forgotten the terrors of the days of the gods, terrors that may reclaim the world and all who still live upon it - but they are a faded, dying people, divided against themselves over long-harbored grievances.
The southern autarch Sulepis, god-king in name, beseiges Southmarch with his nigh-inexhaustible forces, determined to become a god in truth. As his cannons shatter the towers of the castle, his armies delve into the Funderling tunnels beneath, seeking the deep and sacred cavern where Crooked's rift - long worshipped by the diminutive Funderlings - awaits him.
Meanwhile, the usurper Hendon Tolly scarcely bothers defending his own people against the Xixian forces encamped on the keep's doorstep. He, too, knows something of the secrets that lie beneath Southmarch... and if the heathen southern madman thinks to become a god on Midsummer Night, why can't a determined northern nobleman do it, too? He has already made contact through a strange and potent mirror, but opening the gateway requires gods-touched blood. Eddon blood.
Between them all, forces unseen since the last days of the gods Themselves stand ready to be unleashed... and whatever survives the coming cataclysm can never be the same.

REVIEW: The finale to the epic Shadowmarch series, this should've earned a solid Great rating. The tension constantly ratchets upward as new layers, new complications, and new stakes come to light. Fights both on and off the battlefield come together in a suitably epic climax, tying together most of the threads William wove throughout the four volumes. Characters have grown, and many fall, even as others are left to rebuild what lives they may after the great, final battle. Unfortunately, the final stages feel a little drawn out, with some conclusions feeling less earned than contrived. The final purpose - or lack thereof - of a few characters (one in particular) came close to dropping it the rest of the way to a flat Good rating. On the whole, though, I enjoyed the quartet and the world it wove in my mind. I just think the whole thing might've been stronger had it been trimmed by a few chapters.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Scriber (Ben S. Dobson) - My Review
A Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin) - My Review
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (Tad Williams) - My Review