Friday, January 31, 2014

January Site Update

The previous 10 reviews are now archived and cross-linked on the main website. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Egg (M. P. Robertson)

The Egg
M. P. Robertson
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: One morning, George finds a very strange egg in the hen-house. He brings it inside, only to discover that it's an orphaned dragon egg - and it needs someone to teach it how to be a dragon.

REVIEW: Another slow day at work... This one caught my eye with the pretty artwork and the subject matter (dragons being one of my weaknesses.) It reads fast, and if it feels a little short, it still has a nice heart and a good ending.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Knight and the Dragon (Tomie dePaola) - My Review
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Bruce Coville) - My Review
How to Raise and Keep a Dragon (Joseph Topsell) - My Review

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Dark World (Henry Kuttner)

The Dark World
Henry Kuttner
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Edward Bond went mad during World War II... or so many believe. After being shot down, he spent months feverish and delusional, cared for by tribal witch-doctors before being returned to civilization. This scarcely-remembered time still haunts him, in dreams of dark pursuit and unknown enemies just beyond sight. One night, those fears become horribly manifest when a strange fire pulls him from Earth.
He wakes in the Dark World, with terrifying new memories clamoring to replace his own. Here, he is Lord Ganelon, the Chosen of the dark force Lyr, part of a powerful Coven of half-human monsters who rule with sorcery and blood. The Earth-man Edward Bond - brought to the Dark World when his plane crashed, as Ganelon was displaced - had been rallying the free folk of the forests against the Coven. With Ganelon back, Edward has been returned to his own world, leaving the rebels leaderless. Yet some piece of Edward persists in Ganelon, even as the pull of Lyr draws him toward a destiny that might doom the whole of the Dark World.

REVIEW: First published in 1946 (though not released as a book until 1965), this old-school portal fantasy reads a little dated today, yet nevertheless entertains. By merging hero and villain in the twinned Edward/Ganelon, Kuttner (or possibly his wife, C. L. Moore, who co-wrote many of his tales) creates an interesting dynamic, an inner struggle clearly mirroring the battle for the future of the Dark World. The world itself blends old Earth tales with hints of science (if science twisted and blurred to the point of fantasy), drawing on time-honored legends and archetypes even as it creates its own original mythology. It moves fairly quickly, with enough twists and turns to make for a satisfying read. If the resolution feels a little convenient, and if the women are the sort of stereotypes usually reserved for pulp magazine covers... well, it was originally written for the pulp market. Those flaws bugged me just enough to cost it a half-star in the ratings, though it was a very close call. For the most part, I enjoyed it for what it was: a fast-reading adventure in a perilous fantasy world.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs) - My Review
The Phoenix on the Sword (Robert E. Howard) - My Review
Shadowbloom (Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan) - My Review

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Journey (Aaron Becker)

Aaron Becker
Fiction, YA Picture Book
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Bored and ignored, a girl picks up a red pen and draws a door on her bedroom wall, leading her into a strange and wondrous world.

REVIEW: In the vein of the classic Harold and the Purple Crayon, this wordless tale celebrates the magic of imagination. Fascinating wonders await as the nameless heroine explores a castle of canals and giant airships, in an adventure that leads her to discover she's not as alone as she thought she was. The detailed artwork invites one to linger over each page. An enjoyable read, even without words.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dinotopia (James Gurney) - My Review
Fairy Dreams (Carol McLean-Carr) - My Review
Fairy Foals (Suzanah) - My Review

Monday, January 20, 2014

Switch! The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu (Karen Prince)

Switch! The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu
(The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu series, Book 1)
Karen Prince
Karen Prince, publisher
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Ethan didn't want to spend a week hunting in the African bush; he'd much rather stay with his mom and stepdad in Capetown playing computer games, far away from fleas and dirt and germ-ridden animals. But he wants to spend time with his cousin Joe... and Joe's best friend from school, Tariro, bullies Ethan into joining them on the expedition. He thought his biggest worries would be Tariro's mean-spirited teasing and predators, but the trip takes a strange and terrible turn - one that thrusts Ethan, Joe, Tariro, and a local boy into a magical quest to a lost realm.
Gogo Maya comes from the kingdoms of Karibu, a magical realm deep in the impenetrable mountains. With magic literally floating on the drinking water for anyone to use (or abuse), Karibu abounds with strange creatures and terrible dangers. She and her leopard familiar, Salih, were just trying get out of a scrape when Gogo Maya made the switch. The witch thought she'd trade places with a rock or a tree a few miles away. Instead, she switched places with Joe, sending the white boy to Karibu in her place. Worse, when she was pulled from the pool where she arrived, another white boy stole her magic by kissing her, though the fool Ethan claims he was just giving her CPR.
With Salih as their guide, the newly-empowered Ethan and his companions must trek into Karibu to rescue Joe... assuming they can reach him before the inhabitants of Karibu finish the boy off.

REVIEW: This sounded a little different, a young adult fantasy with an African flair, plus it was free when I downloaded it on Kindle. Unfortunately, it trips over its own feet more often than not. Characters go out of their way to be stupid; some initial skepticism is called for, naturally, when a woman who claims to be a witch suddenly pops into existence where a boy used to be, but at some point the evidence is simply too overwhelming to ignore, even to boys as blockheaded as Ethan and Tariro. It's hard to sympathize with characters that stubborn, especially when their belief or disbelief wavers in direct proportion to the needs of the story. Karibu is a strange, sometimes wondrous place, but I had trouble keeping track of who was who, with an impenetrable tangle of names and personalities clamoring for my attention amid bursts of magic. Frequent bursts of action liven things up, but often arrive and resolve abruptly, making them hard to visualize as they played out. It all builds up to an anticlimax of an ending, then cuts off so abruptly that it was hard to figure out if all the necessary lessons had been learned by the necessary people. (I strongly suspect not, and that their further education forms the backbone of future books.) In the end, while I enjoyed parts of my visit to Karibu, I feel no need to make a return trip... especially not with the same characters.

You Might Also Enjoy:
City of the Beasts (Isabel Allende) - My Review
Lionboy (Zizou Corder) - My Review
King Solomon's Mines (H. Rider Haggard) - My Review

Friday, January 17, 2014

Shark vs. Train (Chris Barton)

Shark vs. Train
Chris Barton, illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld
Little, Brown Books
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Two kids pit their toys - a shark and a train - against each other. Racing, swimming, marshmallow roasting... who comes out ahead?

REVIEW: A fast read, it has a clever sense of humor that should amuse parents as well as kids. Each toy has its strong suits, but there are some things neither one can do well; their attempt at a classical concert, for instance, ends disastrously. It kept me amused during down time at work, which was all I asked of it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Old MacDonald Had a Dragon (Ken Baker) - My Review
Children Make Terrible Pets (Peter Brown) - My Review
Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude (Kevin O'Malley) - My Review

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Before Adam (Jack London)

Before Adam
Jack London
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Adventure/Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Since childhood, a man's dreams have taken him into a distant ancestor's life. He recounts here the experiences of Big-Tooth, a protohuman in the savage wilderness of the Mid-Pliocene, who battles predator and starvation and even his own species for survival.

REVIEW: Though based on outdated models of human evolution, this story nevertheless creates an adventurous, danger-filled world with various "tribes" of primitive hominids. Interestingly, London chose to portray not the more advanced "Fire People," who have developed weapons and rudimentary language, but a less-advanced primate whose kin vacillate between arboreal and terrestrial existence, casting some question over which lineage eventually led to modern Homo Sapiens. But, then, neither the narrator nor Big-Tooth claim to be scholars; they simply relate their experiences as their shared memory recorded it, admitting that there are simply too many gaps and too many puzzles to ever find true answers. The story itself wanders, with glimpses of human impulses often overshadowed by animal leanings among Big-Tooth and his kind - the man-to-be still grappling with the beast-that-was. Still, I found it intriguing for what it was, and it successfully killed a couple afternoons.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs) - My Review
The Leopard's Daughter (Lee Killough) - My Review
Wolf Brother (Michelle Paver) - My Review

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Cinder-Eyed Cats (Eric Rohmann)

The Cinder-Eyed Cats
Eric Rohmann
Dragonfly Books
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A boy dreams of a land where the cinder-eyed cats and the fish of the sea dance the nights away.

REVIEW: Another top-of-the-bin read during downtime at work... With sparse, poetic verses, this makes for a fast read. The rich illustrations create a vivid dream world of fish and cats (who, despite clearly being lions on the cover, have stripes in the book itself.) A fun and imaginative tale.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragon World (Rob Brown) - My Review
Lord of the Forest (Jackie Morris) - My Review
Imagine a Night (Sarah L. Thompson) - My Review

Flower of Scotland 1 (William Meikle)

Flower of Scotland 1
William Meikle
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: A boy who longs to grow up gets more than he bargained for... a woman meets a stranger on a fateful train trip... Twitter posts from an unknown source puzzle a young man... a young boy's father helps him deal with bullies in a very special way... These and other tales by author William Meikle are compiled in this collection.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Like Meikle's other works, he keeps these tales short and sweet. Unlike the previous collection, though, I found a few of these stories repetitive, using very similar themes with very similar outcomes. There were also some minor yet irritating formatting issues; parts of sentences or paragraphs missing, for instance, and a glitch that rendered the last few stories completely in italics. On the whole, they're not bad, though.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Strange Happenings (Avi) - My Review
The Anything Box (Zenna Henderson) - My Review
Flower of Scotland 3 (William Meikle) - My Review

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Scoundrel for Hire (Adrienne deWolfe)

Scoundrel for Hire
(The Velvet Lies series, Book 1)
Adrienne deWolfe
ePublishing Works!
Fiction, Historical Fiction/Romance
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Raphael Jones seemed bound for Hell even before he was born. Offspring of a preacher's wife and an unknown stranger, only the love of his half-sister and ailing mother shielded him from his father's brimstone and hatred. When his mother died, he ran away, joining a traveling theatrical troupe that runs a heavy sideline in petty scams.
Silver Nichols, daughter of Colorado mining magnate Max Nichols, struggles to keep her father's company prosperous despite his odd whims and boyish pursuit of lost treasures. When he announces his engagement to a shady fortune teller, Cecilia, she snaps. Surely this woman is a con artist, intent on stealing his fortune as well as his heart... but Max won't hear a word against her. Now, the woman has Max convinced that there's an Indian ghost haunting his mines - a ghost tied to a legendary fortune. With the wedding approaching, the Aspen papers having a field day, and the miners grumbling about spooks in the dark, Silver needs to end this sham once and for all. But how?
Rafe was only in Leadville to help his adopted father pull a scam at a mining conference. When Silver sees through his charade, he thinks he can charm his way free... but the woman doesn't want his kisses. She wants to hire a scoundrel for a scam of her own: impersonating an English earl supposedly touring the American West, he is to woo Cecilia away from her father. Rafe agrees, but with crossed fingers. A single heiress to a silver mine fortune is too tempting a target for him to pass up.
For all the con jobs Raphael Jones has pulled, this one will prove the most dangerous... to his life and, unexpectedly, to his heart.

REVIEW: Downloaded during a Free Friday promotion at the Nook Blog, this looked like a fun, light romp. By and large, it proved to be just that. The characters and situations are exaggerated, but not to ludicrous degrees, and I found myself caring for the people more than I anticipated. Silver and Rafe struggle to reconcile their growing attraction with the scams and lies that brought them together in the first place, Silver having been scarred by a disastrous affair and Rafe still half-believing the damnation that Preacher Jones laid on his soul in childhood. The plot moves quickly, and, despite certain givens for a romance (and the occasional sidetrack into silliness), makes for satisfying reading. Overall, it's a fun tale with a good heart.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Inscription (Pam Binder) - My Review
Time Treasure (Sheila Raye) - My Review
Blood for Wolves (Nicole Taft) - My Review

Friday, January 3, 2014

Write That Book Already! (Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark)

Write That Book Already!
Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark
Adams Media
Nonfiction, Writing
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Plenty of books tell you how to write, but what does it really take to get published? What must you expect from your editor, your agent, your publisher - and yourself? Authors Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark walk you through the process, from draft generation to printing to backlisting.

REVIEW: Written with touches of wit, this book does just what its subtitle claims, providing a look at the marketing and publishing of a novel. The writing process itself is important enough to mention, but it's not the priority here; other books cover the topic quite thoroughly. Some of the advice I'd read elsewhere, and some was new to me, but all of it proved informative, if somewhat overwhelming and occasionally discouraging. It concludes with a helpful glossary of printing and publishing terms, and a section where famous authors list books that inspired them. For the most part, I liked it, even if some of the humor fell flat.

You Might Also Enjoy:
How I Wrote My First Book: The Story Behind the Story (Lida E. Quillen and Anne K. Edwards, editors) - My Review
How I Published My Book And Sold Thousands of Copies (Kenneth Tingle) - My Review
Your First Novel (Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb) - My Review