Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chester (Mélanie Watt)

Mélanie Watt
Kids Can Press
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Once upon a time, a little mouse lived in the country - at least, until the author's cat Chester got his paws on the story. It's writer versus pet in the battle for creative control.

REVIEW: Anyone who has ever tried to do anything around a pushy pet can relate to this story. It's even worse when that pet has a red marker and an ego the size of an unabridged encyclopedia set. Fun, though for some reason I found the sequel (Chester's Back!) a little more amusing.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Never Let Your Cat Make Lunch For You (Lee Harris) - My Review
The Devious Book for Cats (Fluffy and Bonkers) - My Review
Chester's Back! (Mélanie Watt) - My Review

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October Site Update

I've archived and cross-linked the previous eight reviews at Brightdreamer Books.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Nick of Time (Ted Bell)

Nick of Time
(The Nick McIver Time Adventures series, Book 1)
Ted Bell
Square Fish
Fiction, YA Adventure/Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Young Nick McIver may be the best sailor on Greybeard Island; who else, after all, has successfully mapped the deadly reefs off Gravestone Rock? Sailing runs in his blood, as McIvers have served in the British Navy since before the days of Lord Nelson. Living in the lighthouse with his family, sailing the rough seas, exploring the many nooks and crannies of the shoreline... his life couldn't get any better! But it may just take a turn for the worse.
It's 1939, and though the Prime Minister assures the public that the brewing troubles in Europe are none of their concern, Nick's father and other patriots keep a sharp eye on the waters. Despite wartime treaties, the Nazis are developing new, powerful submarines, many of which have a suspicious obsession with the English channel. It all sounds very exciting to Nick, a chance to try his hand at becoming a hero like the men and boys in history books. But Nazis aren't the only trouble stalking the island. When Nick and his kid sister Katie discover a strange sea chest - one with his own name on it! - washed up in a hidden cove, a forbidding stranger soon appears. Billy Blood is a ruthless pirate, a traitor to his country and a merciless kidnapper. With a stolen time machine, he steals children throughout history, holding them for exorbitant ransoms aboard his blood-red ship. Even the reclusive Lord Hawke, the island's most unusual resident, has fallen victim to the monster. When Blood steals Nick's beloved dog, the boy sets out to find him - a journey that will take him into the heart of two wars, over a century apart.

REVIEW: Time travel, pirates, Nazis... this had all the makings of a great, rollicking adventure. Nick starts out as a resourceful, if impetuous, protagonist, and if his family and friends tended to fall neatly into genre stereotypes (the stoic but loving father, the worried mother, the precocious kid sister), well, that's not entirely unexpected in an old-school adventure yarn. But it takes nearly a third of the book to reach the time travel element promised by the cover, a delay involving lots of needless babbling and obvious Lesson-Inducing Blunders on the part of Nick. An awful lot of adults crowd the pages for a children's adventure, talking and explaining and generally eating page count, while the kids linger in the background waiting for their chance at heroism. There's a reason grown-ups usually have back seats in these stories; it becomes harder to suspend disbelief, that a kid will save the day, when too many competent adults are in on the action. Indeed, Nick and Katie's contributions stand out like sore thumbs, especially Katie, who - though not even seven years old - fools trained Nazi Gestapo agents with nary a misstep. Bell wrote a previous series about Hawke, which may explain why he and his right-hand man dominate so much of the story, but they crowded Nick out of his own adventure. The book also can't seem to decide on a definitive tone. One minute, it's trotting out silly stereotypes and eye-rolling efforts at jokes, the next it's callously and gruesomely picking off extras. It all snowballs into a jumbled mess by the end. It also seems to forget that a key element of the plot is a time machine - capable of targeting any time, and any place. Several tense situations could've been resolved with that little golden device.
Despite some good moments and a few memorable scenes - Nick's meeting with a longtime hero leaves him nearly speechless for more than one reason - the whole story felt too long and too unfocused to make for a satisfying read.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Bloody Jack (L. A. Meyer) - My Review
Ghost Ship (Dietlof Reiche) - My Review
Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson) - My Review

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories (E. M. Forster)

The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories
E. M. Forster
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: A boy discovers an omnibus into a world of poetic wonders, a man caught up in the race of life makes a startling discovery, an English boy on vacation abroad is touched by the pagan god of the wilderness... these and more tales await in this collection of short stories by the noted author E. M. Forster.

REVIEW: Once again, my general lack of education is showing. These stories, aimed quite clearly and directly at the upper-class English reader of yesteryear, raised on a classical education and steeped in generations of social constraints, by and large deride the human folly of those very social constraints and attempts to separate oneself from the wonders of the world by thinking true enlightenment can come from bookish education. Yet the literary backflips Forster employs, the obscure allusions and assumptions about the reader's body of knowledge, can only be fully appreciated by one raised in the traditional upper-class English manner. From my undereducated viewpoint, I found many of the stories lacking a point, aside from the sledgehammer-subtle Metaphors and admittedly poetic imagery. Like much higher literature, the story itself appears to be an afterthought, far less important than the play of words and interweaving of Themes. While I enjoyed a couple of the tales in this collection, overall I found them dull and repetitive.
On an unrelated note, looking at the past few reviews, I've come to the conclusion that I have no literary taste whatsoever, if these three books appear on the same reading list, on the same day.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Book of Dragons (Edith Nesbit) - My Review
The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) - My Review
Masterpiece Theatre: Room With a View - Amazon DVD link

Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude (Kevin O'Malley)

Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude
Kevin O'Malley, illustrations by Kevin O'Malley, Carol Heyer, and Scott Goto
Walker Childrens
Fiction, YA Picture Book
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Once upon a time, a beautiful princess's beautiful ponies were being kidnapped by an evil meanie giant. Then a cool dude on a motorcycle showed up to save the day - or did he? When a brother and sister attempt to write a fairy tale together, things quickly get out of hand.

REVIEW: Another quick read during downtime at work, this has a fun concept. The girl's story starts out sickeningly sappy, the boy's tale counters with swords and volcanoes, but they manage to find common ground somewhere in the middle, learning that cooperation is more fun than competition. It wasn't bad, but the wrap-up lacked punch.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragon (Jody Bergsma) - My Review
The Knight and the Dragon (Tomie DePaola) - My Review
The Two Princesses of Bamarre (Gail Carson Levine) - My Review

Chester's Back (Mélanie Watt)

Chester's Back!
Mélanie Watt
Kids Can Press
Fiction, YA Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: An author wants to write a story, but Chester the cat wants to call the shots. He's a star, after all, and demands to be treated as such. The author has other ideas, however...

REVIEW: It was a slow work week, and I found this on top of a bin. This fun little tale gleefully breaks the fourth wall, as Chester's demands (after his first book, Chester, which I've seen but not yet cornered to read) get more ostentatious - as do the author's rebuttals. It got a few chuckles out of me, and kept me entertained while waiting for things to pick up again.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Chloe and the Lion (Mac Barnett) - My Review
There Are Cats In This Book (Viviane Schwartz) - My Review
You're Finally Here! (Mélanie Watt) - My Review

Friday, October 11, 2013

Off to Be the Wizard (Scott Meyer)

Off to Be the Wizard
Scott Meyer
Rocket Hat Industries
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: When twenty-something computer geek Martin stumbles across a data file that controls reality, he decides he'll play it smart, and just change a few things here and there in his life. Nothing fancy. Still, he figures he might as well have an escape plan, an emergency exit route to a time and place where his new, near-magical abilities won't get him prosecuted or burned at the stake. There's a nice, stable slice of time in medieval England that seems perfect, where a modern man could make a nice little life for himself if need be. But surely he won't need it. It's just his own life he's tweaking, after all. Nobody will ever notice.
He arrives in medieval England with little but his smartphone and the clothes on his back, escaping a pair of U.S. Treasury agents and a slew of cops. Martin figures he'll dazzle the natives and play wizard until things cool off at home... but he's not the first geek to have found reality's programming and fled into history, and they don't take kindly to newcomers blundering into their territory. He'll have to learn the ropes fast, because in a world of hacker wizards, revenge can be deadly.

REVIEW: This fun little outing, written by the creator of one of my favorite comic strips (Basic Instructions), reads like Douglas Adams Lite. It never takes itself too seriously, yet manages to craft an interesting, occasionally nuanced tale of hackers running amok through the programming of time, space, and reality. While some of the humor is geared for the computer geek crowd, it's plenty amusing for those of us with only passing familiarity with programming culture. I gave this book an extra half-mark for honoring the late, great Commodore, the best computer system nobody remembers, and for overall whimsy. Despite a few shaky bits, it's a delightful little romp from start to finish.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide (Douglas Adams) - My Review
Galaxy Quest (Terry Bisson) - My Review
Help is On the Way: A Basic Instructions Collection (Scott Meyer) - My Review

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Surcease of Sorrow (Matt Inglima)

Surcease of Sorrow
Matt Inglima
Matt Inglima, publisher
Fiction, Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: In the early days of the Civil War, a man appears in the nation's capital. Nathan uses time travel to ease President Lincoln's sorrow by saving his son William from the disease that will soon claim his life. Averting the man's assassination would cause too many ripples in the space-time continuum, but surely this small act of mercy won't have greater consequences; before he left, Nathan ran the numbers many times. But in time, as in life, one can never know the outcome of even the smallest action, as Nathan is soon to discover.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I had a very mixed reaction to this short story. While the writing itself is decent, telling a time-travel tale that hasn't been done to death, I was irked by Nathan's obsessive stupidity. This is a man who is a scientist in his own era, one privileged to work on a high-level project like time travel... yet, for all his research and presumed intelligence, he makes two dumb mistakes in his first hour in the past, and the crisis at the end could've easily been averted with a little forethought. I didn't care for the ending, but it has a certain measure of justification. It's not a bad little story, all in all.
(As a closing note, I hope the author redesigns the cover image; as it is, it's very hard to read.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Sky Coyote (Kage Baker) - My Review
Timeline (Michael Crichton) - My Review
The Time Machine (H. G. Wells) - My Review

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Tower (J. S. Frankel)

The Tower
J. S. Frankel
Untreed Reads
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Most thirteen-year-old boys don't think much about death, but Bill Lampkin has no choice; Death has been stalking him since he was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia, the disease that took his mother when he was six. With his father hiding in a bottle, he spends his days surrounded by doctors and other sick children, with little but superhero comic books to ease his loneliness. At last, after a brief remission, Bill reaches the end... and makes his escape, determined to die on his own terms and not in a hospital bed. Instead of death, he finds a strange green door, and beyond - something impossible.
Bill wakes in another world, surrounded by superheroes straight from the pages of his comic books, albeit with slightly different costumes and names. This alternate Earth, while outwardly much like his own, has greatly advanced technology and even magic, not to mention the unexplained powers of the heroic Ultras. They even managed to knock out his leukemia, at least for the time being, though the process aged him several years. For a boy facing a lonely death, it's a dream come true, especially when the hot girl hero Oriana takes a liking to him. But all is not as it seems on the Tower, the orbital home base of the superhero Association. Even as Bill settles into his new life, he can't help wondering what's really going on. What does the Ultra leader, Avenger, really do all day? Why can't he find any information on their origins? And what happened to all the supervillians?
An eBook-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This starts on a good note, with an atypical protagonist. Bill isn't the usual world-hopping hero, the Joe Average kid who stumbles into an adventure, but a dying and desperate boy. He isn't even a huge fan of superheroes; he only reads comics because they were all he had on hand, gifts from a less fortunate roommate. Suddenly faced with a future, one populated with impossible heroes no less, he struggles to adapt... and here the story bogs down, lingering far too long on Bill's efforts to find a place among the grunt-worker "normal" humans despite his unusually close relations with the Ultras, who usually keep to themselves. The novelty of the behind-the-scenes look at superhero life, the dynamics of the support crew and other extras glossed over in the comics and movies, wears thin quickly, especially with the tired plot mechanism of a dumb bully and his cronies who must be defeated before Bill can truly call the Tower home. By the time he finally starts getting back to his initial skepticism, questioning the too-perfect Ultras and trying to find answers, I'd grown more than a little antsy. The answers he uncovers, after plenty of wheel-spinning and brick-wall-hitting and second-guessing (Bill's relationship with the Ultra Oriana is threatened more than once by his obsession), stretch credulity nearly to the breaking point. A last-minute antagonist pops up to stretch out the climax, followed by another plot twist (which I'd guessed by the halfway point) and a drawn-out wrap-up that tries too hard to be profound... during which Bill sits down and explains to the reader how his adventures made him grow and change as a human being. I was there, Bill, remember?
I liked some of the ideas here, and there was a decent story at the heart of it. It just seemed overlong to me. The Kindle edition also could've used sharper proofreading; several quotation marks were missing or misplaced, as were paragraph breaks.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Forbidden Mind (Kimberly Kinrade) - My Review
Heroine Addiction (Jennifer Matarese) - My Review
The Incredibles (Widescreen Two-Disc Collector's Edition) - Amazon DVD link

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and the Utterly Screwed (Steff Metal)

The Good, The Bad, and the Utterly Screwed
Steff Metal
Grymm and Epic
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy/Horror
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A mishap leads to a peculiar haunting... Antarctic researchers find something strange amid the penguin population... a man with a millennia-old bone to pick seeks Jesus with a handgun... a very unusual retiree moves into a small apartment... bad weather wakes more than the tourists at a remote New Zealand campground... Five bizarre tales await in this collection by Steff Metal, including an excerpt from the author's upcoming novel, At War With Satan.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A fun little collection of twisted tales, it reads fast and, for the most part, satisfying. Once in a while the New Zealand slang grew a bit thick for my North American palate, but all in all I enjoyed it. I admit to skimming the novel excerpt - I'm not a fan of sales pitches - but what I read made it look like it could be fun, if not quite my cup of cocoa.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Odds are Good (Bruce Coville) - My Review
The Anything Box (Zenna Henderson) - My Review
Flower of Scotland 3 (William Meikle) - My Review