Sunday, April 28, 2013

April Site Update

I've archived and cross-linked the previous 7 reviews on the main website.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Chomp (Carl Hiaasen)

Carl Hiaasen
Fiction, YA Fiction/Humor
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Wahoo Cray grew up among animals. His father, Michael Cray, is one of the best wildlife wranglers in Florida, with a small backyard zoo full of rehabilitation projects like Alice, the six-hundred-pound alligator, and Beulah, a python north of fourteen feet in length. But things have been rough for the Crays since Michael took a blow to the head; the concussion has left him unable to work for months. Wahoo's mom took a temporary job in China, teaching language skills to inept American businessmen, but that will hardly make a dent in the massive debts piling up, not to mention the daily feeding costs of the Cray critter collection.
Expedition Survival! is one of the hottest reality shows on cable. The star, Derek Badger, parachutes blindfolded into remote locations, braving wild animal attacks and living off the land... or so the viewing public believes. In truth, his stuntman makes his trademark jump. Derek spends every night in the nearest five-star hotel with a Jacuzzi, while a long-suffering production team arranges the "spontaneous" animal encounters. With his contract up for renegotiation, he needs a blockbuster show to justify the massive pay raise he's certainly entitled to - which means his crew needs to find the best wrangler in the Florida Everglades.
If the Crays hadn't needed the money, they never would've taken the job... and TV star Derek Badger would've never had an unforgettable date with reality.

REVIEW: Chomp is a fast-reading send-up of "reality" TV. From the eccentric Crays to the egotistical Derek, from the surly airboat captain Link to Derek's long-suffering producer Raven Stark, a host of memorable, fun characters flood the pages, interacting in unexpected ways. While superficially whimsical, even slapstick at times, there's some deeper stuff going on here, especially in the subplot with Wahoo's not-girlfriend Tuna and her abusive drunkard of a father (who live, or rather exist, in a trailer in the Walmart parking lot, for the free electricity and water.) Hiaasen also managed the tricky feat of including adults in a Young Adult title who were not deliberately dumbed down; everyone, minor or adult, plays on a fairly level field with their peculiarities and problems, with none deliberately outshining the others. The story clips along at a fair pace, often amusing and fairly unpredictable, ratcheting up to a suitably wild finale. It was just a fun read all around.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Field Guide to the Apocalypse (Meghann Marco) - My Review
Hatchet (Gary Paulsen) - My Review
Swamplandia! (Karen Russell) - My Review

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)

Catching Fire
(The Hunger Games trilogy, Book 2)
Suzanne Collins
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Katniss Everdeen walked into the 74th Annual Hunger Games competition an underdog, and walked out a hero... and an enemy of Panem's cruel President Snow. She beat the system, allowing both her and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta, to survive a contest that was supposed to leave only one contestant standing. With the cameras on and the Capitol citizens in love with the "star-crossed lovers" from the coal mines, it looked like there was no way for Snow to enact vengeance without enraging his own citizens. At least, so Katniss had hoped.
She soon learns just how wrong she is.
Though Katniss never intended it, she has become a symbol of rebellion to the people, a sign that the government can be thwarted. Years of discontent are finally catching fire across the oppressed districts, with the mockingjay of Katniss's token as their symbol. Little as Snow tolerated her trick at the end of the Hunger Games last year, this year he means to end her, crushing the spirit of a rebellion she never meant to spark. Instead of simply mentoring this year's tributes, Katniss and Peeta must enter the arena again, going up against victors from the other districts. And this time, Snow will see to it personally that neither make it out alive.

REVIEW: Like the first book, Catching Fire starts quickly. As desperate as life in District 12 looked before the Games, things grow even worse as the President makes good on promises to make Katniss suffer. She never asked for any of this, and more than once contemplates simply running away, either into the wilds or into her own depression. Despite the politics and intrigues swirling around her, it's all Katniss can do to simply survive. She is not, and never will be, a politician, and she has trouble even trusting her closest allies, especially when everyone she cares about seems to become a target for government forces. Katniss still can't figure out her own emotions, torn between feelings for her childhood friend Gale and her protector Peeta, not to mention her own determination that she's better off not endangering anyone by actually falling in love. Her survival instincts, however, are as keen as ever, and she manages to come through when it counts the most... up until the very end. I nearly clipped the rating a half-mark for the awkward cliffhanger, with both salvation and desperation dropping out of the sky. It seemed unnecessarily dramatic, a marketing ploy more than an authentic plot twist; there was already plenty of tension to compel me to finish reading the whole trilogy. Still, the book kept me reading long past the point where I meant to set it down and do other things with my evening, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. (And, yes, Book 3's already in the to-be-read pile...)

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Animorphs series (K. A. Applegate) - My Review
Among the Hidden (Margaret Peterson Haddix) - My Review
The Forever Contract (Avery Sawyer) - My Review

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jaguar Sun (Martha Bourke)

Jaguar Sun
(The Jaguar Sun series, Book 1)
Martha Bourke
Balam Press
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Between high school, a long-vanished mother, and a boyfriend too absorbed in football to spend time with her anymore, Maya had enough to worry about. Then the dreams started - strange, intense dreams of a jaguar stalking the night. When she finds the mark on the back of her neck, she realizes she's doomed to be a shifter, one of those ill-reputed people capable of taking on an animal form. But most shifters only transition at age 18, making her two years too young. Then again, most shifters don't have the sort of powers Maya soon discovers... powers that may make her a key player in the coming Mayan apocalypse, when the world might be led into a better place or cursed for all eternity.

REVIEW: Another teen-girl-discovers-powers-and-may-save-the-world book, I knew it was unlikely to be startlingly original when I downloaded it (as a freebie, of course.) Still, even knowing that, I soon grew irritated with Maya. Though she does a little freaking out as her powers develop (with remarkable speed, given their magnitude), she nevertheless gets off easy. The whole story pretty much walks up to her and delivers itself on a silver platter. Friends and mentors abound, telling her everything she needs to know and taking her just where she needs to be. Once in a rare while, she has visions that help, but even these are hand-delivered by Balam, her otherworldly jaguar guide. The first time she tries most anything with her powers, it works - often better than even her mentors could have dreamed. Her enemies helpfully exist purely to be evil; there is absolutely no question about which side is Right and which is Wrong, no possible alternatives, no ambiguity in the prophecies, making it exceptionally easy for her to figure out whom to side with when the chips are down. She even finds her life mate, a very big deal among shifters (who mate for life, evidently regardless of what their animal forms may be), almost as soon as she transitions. Much as she frets and worries, Maya just plain doesn't have to do anything but exist. She was, quite literally, born to succeed. One begins to wonder why the bad guys even try opposing her. The writing itself isn't bad, and it kept me reading even as I rolled my eyes, but it was hard to feel much tension when the story's so clearly choreographed by Fate. I clipped it a half-mark for the ending; even though I knew it was Book 1 of a series, it felt like a letdown, given the supposedly world-altering climax that preceded it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Jaguar Princess (Clare Bell) - My Review
Treasure of the Jaguar Warrior - Mystery of the Mayan Calendar (Barbara Ivie Green) - My Review
Pride's Run (Cat Kalen) - My Review

Friday, April 12, 2013

Storybound (Marissa Burt)

(The Storybound series, Book 1)
Marissa Burt
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Seventh-grader Una Fairchild loves nothing more than escaping into a good book. She never thought she'd actually fall into one. But when she discovers the strange book in the corner of the library - the one with her own name on the cover - suddenly she finds herself in the middle of the story, with no idea how she got there or how to get home.
Peter Merriweather only wanted to pass his practical exam on Heroics at the Perrault Academy for characters. Despite being partnered with the snobbish girl Snow as his Lady companion, he was doing just fine... until a strange girl pops up right before the dragon encounter, ruining everything. Angry as he is, he can't help feel sorry for poor Una - and a little afraid. He's heard of people being Written In to the world of Story, but not since the terrible days of the Muses. Under the reign of the Talekeepers, who locked away all the old books to protect the characters of the world from Muse-penned lies, WIs shouldn't be possible.
Peter and Una soon find themselves up to their necks in a dark plot that threatens the world of Story, stretching back to the days of the Muses and rumors of a long-lost King. Faced with an ever-increasing array of powerful, deadly enemies, getting home soon becomes the least of Una's worries.

REVIEW: I wanted to like this book more than I did. It's a great idea, one that should've riveted me to the page. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get past the often- cliched characters and situations. Friends and enemies largely sort themselves based on first meetings. The baddies do a lot of skulking and scheming (conveniently when they can be overheard by snooping children) and nefarious hand-rubbing. The good guys, on the other hand, spend much of their time repeating things they already know, constantly reminding the reader of the questions they're trying to answer. They also trip themselves up more than once, in ways that had me wishing I could fall into Story long enough to smack them upside the head. More or less despite their actions, the tale builds to a tense climax (one fairly obvious plot twist notwithstanding)... only to end with a To Be Continued non-ending. That cost it a half-point in the ratings, and assured that I won't be picking up Book 2 unless I'm particularly desperate for reading material. It's an interesting premise, with some glimmers of good ideas here and there, but ultimately I just couldn't connect with the characters or their world.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Inkheart (Cornelia Funke) - My Review
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup) - My Review
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede) - My Review

Friday, April 5, 2013

Phoenix Rising (Cynthia Vespia)

Phoenix Rising
Cynthia Vespia
Orignal Cyn Advertising
Fiction, Thriller
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Former military sniper John Phoenix only failed one job in his life: the day he missed the guerrillas who nearly wiped out his unit in Afghanistan. Discharged and drifting, he stumbled into a life as a freelance killer for hire, rationalizing his job by only taking hits on truly despicable people. The Army trained him well, and he trained himself even better. He's never missed a shot in his career.
Waking up in a pool of his own blood in Las Vegas, with no idea how he got there, doesn't bode well.
John has no time to brood or recuperate; he's on a job, and something's clearly gone very wrong. Worse, it seems an old girlfriend may be involved: Victoria, the one woman who almost lured him from the life of a hit man. If he gets her back alive, he may just leave this job for good... assuming he survives a mission that's already nearly killed him once.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I figured I could use a change of pace, so when I saw this offered as a free download, I decided to try it. The story starts fast, rarely slackening its pace as John races to put the pieces of his shattered memory together in time to save his own life. Bullets fly, knives slice, blood spurts, and bodies fall at a prodigious rate, as John proves that sheer grit and testosterone can overcome medical science and even the laws of physics. The plot itself, involving gun runners and kidnappings and shady deals gone bad, does its job, if not in a stunningly original fashion; even though I don't read many thrillers, I saw one of the biggest plot twists coming a mile away. Actually, the whole book reminded me of a pilot episode for an action series, the sort of lone soldier-of-fortune show one doesn't see on the airwaves much anymore. It read fast, and was enjoyable for what it was, but I lack the testosterone levels to be fully absorbed by this kind of story.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Wolf Rider (Avi) - My Review
The Ghosts of Belfast (Stuart Neville) - My Review
Rogue Wave (Theodore Taylor) - My Review

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dragon Poems for 2011 (M. R. Mathias, editor)

Dragon Poems for 2011
M. R. Mathias, editor
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, YA? Anthology/Fantasy/Poetry
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: A selection of poems about dragons, from silly haikus to epic retellings of classic tales. Proceeds from the sale of this volume benefit, a foundation providing cleft repair surgeries for children in need.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: It was a free download, and I needed something lightweight to read, so I gave this a try. I enjoyed some of the poems, and the worst of them were merely forgettable. I've read far worse.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragon World (Rob Brown) - My Review
Dragons Composed (James Ferris, editor) - My Review
The Dragons Are Singing Tonight (Jack Prelutsky) - My Review

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

100 Web Sites for Fiction Writers (Ty Johnston)

100 Web Sites for Fiction Writers
Ty Johnston
L. M. Press
Nonfiction, Writing
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: The Internet can be an overwhelming place, with countless sites on any given subject... most of which are less than useful. For writers looking for information, inspiration, or a supportive community, it's no different. Writer Ty Johnston discusses 100 websites on all manner of topics, from beginning grammar to advanced e-publishing.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This eBook starts on a shaky foot, with an introduction that sounds a little too much like an author tooting his own horn. Beyond that, he devotes a chapter to each website he mentions, explaining what he found useful about them and why a writer might be interested in them. I spot-checked some of these sites, and personally found them to be a mixed bag. A few proved less than interesting, making me wonder if they'd been redesigned since Johnston visited (or were simply promising something that the webmaster never delivered), while others quickly earned bookmarks for further explorations. On the whole, they balance out. Since this book delivers exactly what the title promises, I gave it the benefit of the doubt with a solid Good rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Slow Your Prose (James W. Lewis) - My Review
The Digital Writer's Guide to Twitter (Tracy O'Connor and The Digital Writer) - My Review
So You Want an Author Platform? (Louise Wise) - My Review