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.

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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
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.


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.

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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)

(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.

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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.

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Arcana Universalis (Chris J. Randolph) - My Review
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Two Princesses of Bamarre (Gail Carson Levine)

The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Gail Carson Levine
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.

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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...)

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Friday, December 7, 2012


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.

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Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass) - My Review