Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Site Update

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


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? (Fred White)

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
Fred White
Writer's Digest Books
Nonfiction, Writing
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: C. S. Lewis envisions a faun carrying packages through the snowy woods, and a classic series is born. Tolkien writes an irreverent sentence about a "hobbit," and begins his journey to Middle Earth. Ideas are all around us, but most pass unnoticed, and many of those we do see never seem to come to much. How does one recognize an idea's potential, and how can it be cultivated into successful articles, essays, or stories? Teacher and author Fred White offers tips and exercises for writers on idea generation and story planning.

REVIEW: I had a mixed reaction as I read this book. On one hand, White offers some good advice on brainstorming and crystallizing even the most nebulous sparks of inspiration. On the other, he seems almost obsessive about preparation work; not a single phase of the process can be accomplished without numerous worksheets and lists and research phases and expert interviews. I suspect that the professor in him shows here, as writing takes on the semblance of a class assignment, with clearly-defined progress points and worksheets for grading. While I understand the value of preparation, at some point the story itself must be written, and there seems little room for that here. There's also a fine line between preparation and organized procrastination; obsessively filling out lists and worksheets and exhaustively researching every little nuance before even writing the first draft can very easily cross that line. He mentions that some authors do fine with a more organic approach, but seems to fear spontaneous creativity himself, though he never quite comes out and says it. Then White goes on to suggest that authors should participate in National Novel Writing Month, possibly the epitome of spontaneous writing, which actively encourages exploring fresh ideas and going with the flow. The two approaches to writing do not seem compatible.
I learned some things here, and several of White's exercises are useful. His methods just seem stifling to me.

You Might Also Enjoy:
No Plot? No Problem! (Chris Baty) - My Review
Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass) - My Review
A Whack on the Side of the Head (Roger Van Oech) - My Review

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Time Keeper (Barbara Bartholomew)

The Time Keeper
(The Timeways trilogy, Book 1)
Barbara Bartholomew
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Jeanette and her younger brother, Neil, have been struggling to adapt to a changing life. After their parents divorced, they stayed with their father in Dallas - which wasn't so bad, until he brought home his new wife (who insists Jean should be wearing dresses) and her perfect, pretty daughter (who stole the boy Jean's always had a crush on, and half the other boys at school besides.) Now her best friend Tina's nagging her about the old Lansden House, a derelict hotel slated for demolition. Surely an architect like her father has some pull with the city to save the place! Jean just can't care about old things or old buildings. Nothing can bring back the past, or change it.
Exploring the old hotel, Neil and Jean discover a hidden doorway to a cavern with six strange glowing stones, so well hidden that not even the demolition company knows about it. When Neil runs away from home, Jean follows him there... and watches him step on the stones and vanish into thin air! Jean follows, and finds herself in frontier Texas. Only something's not quite right - the real frontier never had unicorns, nor did it have two moons in an unfamiliar night sky. Somehow, Neil and Jean have fallen into another world - and their efforts to return home only get them more lost, in a future where time travel is the ultimate crime. All the while, the clock ticks down to the demolition of the Lansden House... and the destruction of their only chance to return to when and where they belong.

REVIEW: A Kindle reprint of an older title, The Time Keeper offers adventure, danger, and conflicted characters struggling to figure things out before it's too late. In other words, it's everything a good young adult book should be. Neil gets a little annoying now and again, though since Jean's the hero it's appropriate for the kid brother to be irritating. She makes a decent protagonist, figuring things out fairly well on her own without having to be repeatedly bashed over the head with clues. Despite having two boys with her, Jean's the one who has to get them out of trouble, a refreshing change from some stories (even adult ones.) Actually, most of the characters eventually pulled their own weight, even the minor ones. It starts a little slow, but picks up nicely, clipping along to an ending that offered more conclusion than I expected, while still leading into future books. I lost an entire afternoon to it, meaning to put the Kindle down after just one more chapter. Considering that it was first published in the 1980's, it holds up pretty well. Hopefully, the next two books are also slated for eBook re-release, or I'll have to try my luck with the library.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Found (Margaret Peterson Haddix) - My Review
Surcease of Sorrow (Matt Inglima) - My Review
The Watchers series (Peter Lerangis) - My Review

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Self Discipline NOW (William Wyatt)

Self Discipline NOW
William Wyatt
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Self-Help
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Most people have dreams or goals, but many fail to achieve them. Developing self-discipline is necessary for success. Learn 10 proven steps that will transform your life in this eBook.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I wasn't expecting much when I downloaded this short title as a freebie, but even then I was disappointed. Most of it restates the obvious, and the rest fails to provide what the description promises. It also was likely outsourced to a non-English speaker; the words are recognizable, but the grammar is often confusing and occasionally downright impenetrable. Even as a freebie, it wasn't worth the cost.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Mental FOCUS Training Secrets (Nathan Cadbury) - My Review
Simple But Effective Strategies to Improve Yourself (Robert Eastwood) - My Review
The Motivation Myth (Mattison Grey and Jonathan Manske) - My Review

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dracula (Bram Stoker)

Bram Stoker
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Fantasy/Horror
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Englishman Jonathan Harker traveled to Transylvania to meet a client, who had recently purchased property in London. It was a prestigious opportunity for a young solicitor like himself, an auspicious sign for his career and his impending marriage to the lovely Mina. But, deep in the Carpathian mountains, he instead discovers a terror beyond any Christian imagination... a terror bound for his own homeland, against which he stands powerless.

REVIEW: Considered the seminal vampire novel, Dracula creates one of the most terrifying and powerful agents of evil in English literature... and almost smothers him it a stifling, plodding plot that can't advance one step without numerous speeches and brooding internal monologues. Not a single character in this book can do anything without weaving a web of words to explain themselves, often repeating information that was just relayed in the previous chapter. Despite being educated and intelligent people (even the women), they take a long time figuring out that evil is afoot... not helped by Professor Van Helsing, the expert, who deliberately withholds information even as he demands assistance in seemingly insane tasks. (When he asks a man to help him desecrate the corpse of a woman he once proposed marriage to, and still won't explain himself, I actually groaned out loud.) Even when everyone's up to speed on vampires, they continue to ignore obvious signs of diabolical influences within their circle. These people are too smart to be this stupid, even to further the plot.
Through the haze of words and repetition, Stoker creates some memorable mental images amid an evocative, gloomy atmosphere. Dracula makes a particularly scary monster, elusive and cunning and resourceful, yet capable of a disarming charisma that lulls victims into his power. I was surprised to find some vampiric traits that I'd taken to be more modern - the sensuality, for instance - already present in this 1897 book. Other abilities and limitations seemed more nebulous, if partially explained by Dracula's own ignorance; one of the more terrifying aspects of the character was how he was still learning and adapting after centuries of undeath. It made him all the more dangerous and unpredictable, even to supposed experts like Van Helsing. If Mina was ultimately more of a symbol of divine perfection than a character, and if the superiority of white Christians grew nauseating by the end, well, I suppose those are just signs of the times in which the story was written.
In the end, I managed to come out with an Okay rating. While Dracula is an iconic monster, the wordy repetition and slow, jerky storyline held it back.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Casting Shadows (J. Kelley Anderson) - My Review
Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury) - My Review
Rough Draft (Michael Robertson Jr) - My Review

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fifty-One Tales (Lord Dunsany)

Fifty-One Tales
Lord Dunsany
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: The call of the Muses haunts a man, a pair of strangers ask the way to Stonehenge, a man entertains an invisible dinner guest, a worker's ghost returns to visit a poet who witnessed his death, the true story of the Tortoise and the Hare... these and more vignettes play out in a collection of short stories by the famed Irish author Lord Dunsany.

REVIEW: With a poetic voice that doesn't strive to alienate (unlike some older works I've read), Dunsany's tales are more like vignettes than short stories, brief glimpses of imagery and emotion that suggest larger tales. Many are only one page long, so even the most confusing story never overstays its welcome. Not all of them made sense, but the dreamlike nature and hints of wit carried these stories along. There are common themes running through many of them, which occasionally grew tedious, but I've read far worse, with far less subtle Messages. After clawing through E. M. Forster's dense prose, I gave Dunsany the benefit of the doubt with a solid Good rating. (At the very least, unlike Forster, I can see myself tackling more of Dunsany's works in the future.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Odds are Good (Bruce Coville) - My Review
The Anything Box (Zenna Henderson) - My Review

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dracopedia: The Great Dragons (William O'Connor)

Dracopedia: The Great Dragons
William O'Connor
Nonfiction, Art
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Since prehistory, the great dragons of the world have inspired fear and awe in humans. Today's populations may be threatened by poaching, pollution, and habitat destruction, but they still endure among us. From the white Icelandic dragons to the critically endangered gray Ligurians of the Mediterranean, from the misty coasts of the Pacific Northwest to the polluted lakes and rivers of mainland China, conservationists struggle to ensure that the world's great dragons will be with us for generations to come. Famed artist William O'Connor and his intrepid assistant, Conseil, set out on a trek around the world to observe and sketch all eight surviving species in their natural habitats.

REVIEW: Much like the first Dracopedia, O'Connor blends a vivid imagination with artistic skills, creating eight wonderfully realized species of dragon while offering artistic instruction. He focuses on digital media, with many tips on using Photoshop and related software for maximum effect - and how to avoid the sterile, "plastic" look of digital art; his final images look like true traditional paintings, demonstrating the versatility and power of modern media in the hands of an experienced artist. The art instruction often takes a back seat to O'Connor's invented dragons, though, and his accompanying art walkthroughs gloss over several steps. This is not a book for rank beginners, in other words, but for artists with some basic knowledge and skill to work with. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. Even non-artistic dracophiles should be able to appreciate this book.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures (Emily Fiegenschuh) - My Review
Dracopedia (William O'Connor) - My Review
DragonArt (J. "NeonDragon" Peffer) - My Review