Sunday, November 30, 2014

November Site Update

Almost forgot - I've updated the main site, archiving and cross-linking the previous six reviews.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Book Writing Accelerated (Ian Stables)

Book Writing Accelerated
Ian Stables
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Writing
* (Terrible)

DESCRIPTION: Learn a simple, fast way to organize book writing, from research to finishing touches.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: It's a bad sign when the first thing you find in a book purporting to be about professional writing is a defensive statement about how grammar rules are only for "college textbooks" and not necessary for the author's style. This is like saying that basic arithmetic is only for rocket scientists. It makes me question whether or not this is a man educated and experienced enough to teach me anything, plus it's a very unprofessional tone to strike - especially when he simply meant to say that his grammar is colloquial, a statement that shouldn't need two and a half pages to defend. (It also makes me more likely to notice grammar errors... and there were many, so many that I wondered if he owned a word processing program with a simple grammar check at all.) Stables then goes on to defend his short books - again, assuming that I had downloaded his title simply to criticize him. His thesis here is that one shouldn't need a long book to learn anything if those other lazy writers just cut the fat and got right to the salient points - a flawed message, especially as Stables himself could've easily trimmed this eBook by a third or more. So, right out of the gate, I have an author with no respect for the basic building blocks of the language and who feels the need to defend his own works while denigrating others. This isn't much of a welcome mat, as I cross the threshold into his book.
So, what does Stables actually teach, in this book he took so much time and effort to defend before I set eyes on it? Very little one can't find elsewhere - and he teaches it in a circular, wandering, dull manner that had my eyes glazing long before he reached his chapter-ending summaries. He also undermines his own credentials, not simply by refusing to acknowledge the value of grammar but by poor editing (more than one sentence is indecipherable, plus there's a memorable bit where he advises authors to ask the six fundamental question prompts - which number seven when he spells them out.) He lauds the value of speaking as one would "to a friend", even using a microphone to record one's speech so one's natural "voice" carries through - but seems entirely oblivious to software like Dragon Naturally Speaking, which would eliminate his next step of transcribing said audio files (or paying someone else to do it via Fiverr.) If you're going to talk out your book anyway, why do extra work, especially in a method that's supposed to be about "Book Writing Accelerated"? And what hole has Stables been living in, that he's unaware of speech-to-text software? He says at the outset that one should learn a subject before attempting to teach it via a book - so why didn't he learn about this? Doesn't he use his own method?
If you've never read any other how-to-write books, I suppose you might pick up a few pointers here. Otherwise, I'd look elsewhere... preferably somewhere with a little more respect for the reader than to automatically assume we're all grammar hawks out to nitpick authors to death.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Write That Book Already! (Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark) - My Review
Write As Fast As You Think (Angie Dixon) - My Review
Words to Write By (Elaine L. Orr) - My Review

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Invisible Prison (Mary Buckham)

Invisible Prison
(The Invisible Recruits Novellas, Book 1)
Mary Buckham
Cantwell Publishing
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Convicted of a grisly murder, Alex Noziak expected to spend the rest of her life in prison. She didn't dare tell the authorities the truth: that she's a half-shaman/half-witch who had summoned a death demon to save her brother from a rogue Were. Normal people still think werewolves, vampires, fairies, and the rest of the non-human world are just the stuff of bedtime stories, or the self-delusions of so-called Wiccans and other New Age freaks... and Alex would rather live out her days in prison than expose her family and her kind. Despite her silence, someone has figured out who she is, and what she can do. A mysterious pair of strangers come calling, offering her a choice: join up with a secret government agency created to keep human and non-human relations as peaceful (and quiet) as possible, earning a full pardon in a year, or rot in a cell. Something smells about the whole deal, and there's plenty the two aren't telling her, but she has little choice - especially when they threaten to expose her shifter family. Thrown in with a pack of other peculiar recruits, none of whom are forthcoming about their origins or abilities, Alex soon realizes that earning a spot in the Invisible Recruits agency may be the least of her worries, compared to simply staying alive.
An eBook-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I read this urban fantasy novella in a single afternoon, carried along by the quick action and snarky voice of the narrator. Alex makes for a tough heroine, yet she has her share of brains and - though she tries to deny it - a weakness for underdogs, not to mention an attitude that tends to get her into trouble that her magic and her fists can't always get her out of. This being mostly a setup for a novel series about Alex and the Invisible Recruits, it plays out like a TV pilot episode, establishing the core idea and world while introducing the cast of characters. If some of those characters felt underdeveloped, and if the ending felt a bit abrupt, well, such is the nature of many origin tales. I almost clipped it a half-star for the somewhat nebulous nature of Buckham's alternate world; there seemed to be almost too many possible non-humans and magic systems running around, and their powers and limitations came across as a little plot convenient at times. Still, I've read far worse - especially recently - so I was willing to cut it a little slack.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer) - My Review
Pride's Run (Cat Kalen) - My Review
Bedlam's Bard (Mercedes Lackey) - My Review

Monday, November 17, 2014

Step Into My Parlor (Jan Hudson)

Step Into My Parlor
(The Women on the Run series, Book 1)
Jan Hudson
Janece O. Hudson, publisher
Fiction, Romance
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Socialite Anne Foxworth Jennings, heiress to the Royal Fox luxury hotel fortune, never thought she'd be stepping into a Houston pawn shop, desperate for cash. But things changed fast when her mother died and her stepbrother Preston tried to get his hands on the family bank account - first by proposing to Anne, then by trying to kill her. When she ran, she grabbed a briefcase full of Preston's files: blackmail material on everyone from senators and judges to the head of the FBI. With that kind of power ranged against her, Anne doesn't know whom she can trust. Her only hope was an old lawyer friend, far enough out of Washington to be beyond Preston's grasp, but Vicki seems to have vanished, leaving Anne stranded in Texas with sixty-three cents in her pocket and no options.
"Spider" Webb, former football star turned pawn shop owner, has made a comfortable life for himself in Texas... comfortable, but lonely. He didn't realize how lonely he'd been until the strange lady turned up in his pawn shop, hocking her watch for enough money to buy a hotel room and a meal. From the fear in her eyes, he knows she's running... and from the faint mark on her ring finger, he knows she's married. And one thing Spider won't do is mess around with a married woman. But he also can't turn his back on a lady who needs help - especially when the mere thought of her tempts him to break his own rule about married women in his bed.

REVIEW: Once again, I was fooled by reviews on Amazon. This was supposed to be a clever romance, winner of multiple awards... at least, in the original form. This version, however, has been "updated" and edited for its eBook debut. Perhaps some of that cleverness I was promised was edited out, or perhaps the basic storyline is just too dated for me to enjoy.
Even for a novella, it feels stretched, puffed with prolonged shopping trips and visits from Spider's vast network of friends and the obligatory yearnings of the leads as they simultaneously obsess over and try to deny their passions. The threat of Preston is mostly in Anne's mind; she may have had close calls before reaching Texas, but any trace of him finding her in Houston is the result of an overactive imagination, not to mention blatant bait-and-switches by the author. This makes her less a fearful woman in over her head, struggling to stay alive and do the right thing, than a frail object jumping at shadows who needs a Good Strong Man to protect her from herself. I could feel the author's hand constantly at work, creating complications and smoothing them out, tugging characters this way and that, making the whole story feel like a cheap contrivance rather than a natural unfolding of events between genuinely attracted individuals.
The romance itself feels unbalanced. Anne's the desperate one, the helpless woman who needs saving, the shallow socialite who needs to change her preconceptions about scruffy men in leather jackets and the merits of beer and country music versus wine and symphony orchestras. She's even the one responsible for most of the angst, letting Spider believe she's running from a husband (and therefore not fair game for his affections) rather than coming clean with her single status. Spider, on the other hand, is pretty much perfect as is, a good ol' country boy who hasn't an enemy in the world. His only perceived weaknesses are an overprotective streak (justified, in Anne's case) and an inability to recognize gallery-quality merchandise in his own store (a rather stereotypical hole for a manly man... and one that Anne conveniently fills, when he just happens to have numerous big ticket items in need of salvation by a fugitive art gallery owner.) Despite comments about their economic disparity, Spider comes across as fairly loaded, casually peeling off hundreds from an inexhaustible wad to assist any friend and cater to any real or perceived whim of Anne's. Half of Houston apparently has benefited from his legendary generosity, which he brushes off with a smile and a comment about tax deductible donations. With such flimsy barriers in their way, the ending would be a foregone conclusion even if this weren't billed as a romance.
In the end, I walked out of Spider's pawn shop feeling manipulated and unimpressed.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Concrete Evidence (Rachel Grant) - My Review
Branded for You (Cheyenne McCray) - My Review
Pawn Stars: Season 1 - Amazon DVD link

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Photography for Beginners Box Set: 2 in 1 (Thomas Reed)

Photography for Beginners Box Set: 2 in 1
(Photography for Beginners Exposed; Photography Composition Uncovered)
Thomas Reed
Afflatus Publishing
Nonfiction, Photography
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Maybe you have a digital camera, but can't seem to get good results - the pictures always look flat or out of focus, too dark or too light. Or maybe you're in the market for a new camera. The author, a working photographer, offers advice and tips, explaining simple photographic terms and discussing how to make the most out of any shot. This box set contains two books:
Photography for Beginners Exposed: Reed explains the difference between camera types, the pros and cons of different lenses, and the meanings of such mystifying yet essential terms as aperture, f-stop, and ISO settings.
Photography Composition Uncovered: Reed discusses the importance of choosing a subject and paying attention to the background, with more on focal length and other subjects.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: These two titles suffer mostly from oversimplification and a lack of tangible examples to illustrate his points. For photography books, there seem to be very few pictures... save when they're advertising other Afflatus titles. Reed also has some follow-through issues; he spends time talking about manual film cameras (by now, more of a specialty item than a common camera that a beginner photographer might consider purchasing), but doesn't talk about different film types, and his discussions of software (as essential to the process today as a darkroom used to be) are virtually nil - instead, he mentions physical filters, which won't attach to the average beginner camera without an adapter... sometimes, not even then. It makes me doubt that he's as photo-savvy as he claims to be, or wonder if he hasn't updated his skills to include modern tools and techniques. I also found the ads intrusive. If you have no other books on the subject and find it as a free download, as I did, it might be worth a look.

You Might Also Enjoy:
How to Take Great Photographs with Any Camera (Peter Creighton) - My Review
Confessions of a Compact Camera Shooter (Rick Sammon) - My Review

Saturday, November 8, 2014

DragonArt Ultimate Gallery (J. "NeonDragon" Peffer)

DragonArt Ultimate Gallery
J. "NeonDragon" Peffer
Impact Books
Nonfiction, YA? Art
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Dragons and fairies and monsters - oh, my! Noted fantasy artist J. "NeonDragon" Peffer gathers more than 70 works in this volume.

REVIEW: With a few reprints from her previous DragonArt instruction books, most of this is new material, from personal works to commissions. She talks briefly about some of the the subjects, and adds a few quick notes on the work process, but mostly it is just what it says at the outset: a gallery showcasing her manga-influenced fantasy art. This honesty in advertising earned it back a half-star that it nearly lost for its sparse commentary. If you like her stuff, or just like fantasy art, it's worth a look... especially if you find it, as I did, at half price.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Myth and Magic: The Art of John Howe (John Howe) - My Review
Dracopedia (William O'Connor) - My Review
DragonArt (J. "NeonDragon" Peffer) - My Review

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hero for Hire (C. B. Pratt)

Hero for Hire
(The Eno the Thracian series, Book 1)
C. B. Pratt
C. B. Pratt, publisher
Fiction, Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: With the ongoing unpleasantness in Troy, even the gods seem to have forgotten that curses, monsters, and other unnatural plagues still trouble Greece. Eno the Thracian, meanwhile, has kept himself busy mopping up these little messes while the other heroes are off at war. Word of a harpy on the small island of Leros brings the chance of a double reward: one nation will gladly pay to be rid of the monster, while another has a standing offer for a live harpy. It seems like a simple enough task for a man of Eno's skills and experience, perhaps finally netting him enough money to retire with the woman who stole his heart. But something much more sinister than a harpy haunts Leros, a dark force powerful enough to bring the known world to its knees... a force more powerful than death itself, to which even the gods seem blind.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Set in mythological Greece, this tale offers action, humor, and a fair bit of local color. Eno may be stronger than the average man, but it's his wits that carry him furthest, making him more than just a second-rate hero. He encounters memorable adversaries and colorful allies, many of whom rise above flat stereotypes. I quite enjoyed the adventure, despite a few anachronisms that nearly threw me out of the story. (Both pumpkins and hummingbirds are strictly New World species; even allowing for the light tone and Eno's modern-sounding voice, Pratt relied on real-world history enough to make those references stand out like Herculean sore thumbs. And those were just the ones I caught, with my notorious undereducation.) The ending, unfortunately, becomes a tangled mess of action that draws itself out too long, dragging the whole thing down a half-star. Aside from that, it's a fun, fast-paced heroic jaunt.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Pyramid Scheme (Eric Flint and David Freer) - My Review
The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) - My Review
Clash of the Titans (1981) - Amazon DVD Link