Saturday, April 28, 2012

April Site Update

The previous 11 reviews are now archived and cross-linked on the main Brightdreamer Books website.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Blessed Lands Egypt (J. Carrell Jones)

Blessed Lands Egypt
J. Carrell Jones
Mythical Legends
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance

DESCRIPTION: Vizier Ferruk, one of the most powerful and morally corrupt people in the Blessed Lands of the modern Egyptian Empire, thought he was above threats... until the Grand Oracle shares with him a vision sent from the gods Themselves. It is the figure of a younger man, fists glowing blue with divine magic - and he will, the Oracle informs him, soon kill Ferruk and assume his mantle of power. Even as he races to avert the prophecy, he may already be too late.
Once a decorated soldier in Pharaoh's glorious armies, fighting the infidel Mayans across the oceans, now Honute works as a humble priest of Thoth, dedicating his life to the helping of others and the glory of his god. He neither needs nor wants more... and his ambitious wife, Hypatia, tires of waiting for him to shake off his complacency and reach for loftier goals. Even as she declares her intentions to divorce him, Honute's fate becomes bound in far greater wheels. The renowned researcher Dr. Theophis has just discovered that the genetic capacity for magic can be activated in anyone, and she needs a suitable test subject. She needs someone without known aptitude, but with a willingness to believe in miracles... someone like a humble priest of Thoth.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: When I downloaded this title during a freebie window, I was under the impression that this was a romance, set in an alternate Earth where classical Egypt's reign extends into modern times.
To put it bluntly, I was mistaken.
For much of the book, the setting hardly matters; it reads almost exactly like modern Earth, with only a thin veneer of Egypt to suggest another reality. (This does change later, but by then my interest had waned.) Mostly, it's a smut-filled romp for cardboard-thin characters thinking with their crotches - all, that is, save the impossibly perfect, impossibly humble hero Honute. Not that he doesn't do his share of rutting, too, but he's so gosh-darn humble about his ability to bring his partners to unparalleled states of orgasmic ecstasy that he scarcely considers satisfying his own urges. How perfect is he? Early on, while seducing Honute's soon-to-be-ex-wife, the lesbian doctor Theophis implores Hypatia to give him another chance, because the hunk is such a stellar catch. (Here, the author turns to the audience and tells us, yes, this man is so sexy and wonderful even lesbians want some of that action.) Love is an afterthought, and seduction comes in a liquor bottle. Quite honestly, the sex scenes bored me, which seems to defeat the purpose of a sex scene.
What's left without them? Not much. People bicker, largely over who loves Honute more and who can or cannot have him. Hypatia goes from being a shrew to being vaguely redeemable to being an even greater shrew. Ferruk lurks and schemes and abuses his slaves, lacking only a Snidely Whiplash mustache to twirl. And Honute prays to Thoth, denies his own perfection (as a perfect man should), and - despite his most humble objections - finds himself adored by countless followers on the path to greatness. To top off this exercise in gonad worship, the story clearly had not seen even a cursory pass with a spelling or grammar checker; the many sound-alike mistakes led me to suspect voice-recognition software at work, which made it all the more essential that Jones proofread diligently. At the end, the author includes a picture gallery, for little reason other than to show off the fact that he downloaded Poser.
In summary, I'd hoped for an intriguing alternate universe with a little romance. I got a sticky, crumpled adult magazine that fell through the cracks between realities. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to wash my hands, my eyeballs, and my Kindle with industrial-strength bleach.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Inscription (Pam Binder) - My Review
Pyramid Scheme (Eric Flint and David Freer) - My Review
The Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) - My Review
The Water Mirror (Kai Meyer) - My Review

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Adventures of Whatley Tupper: A Choose Your Own... (Daniel Pitts and Rudolph Kerkhoven)

The Adventures of Whatley Tupper: A Choose Your Own...
Daniel Pitts and Rudolph Kerkhoven
Bowness Books
Fiction, General Fiction
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Senior custodian Whatley Tupper never met a stain he couldn't best, nor a problem he couldn't walk away from. One night, mopping at the university, a dark figure startles him, knocking over his bucket as it flees from a supposedly-vacant washroom. Mild-mannered he may be, but Tupper didn't devote eight years of his life to Magnum, P.I. without learning how to tell when something's fishy. Thus begins the most adventurous night of his life, a night in which nearly anything could happen. Will he find himself deep in the bowels of the university, faced with a union-busting conspiracy? Will he find himself at Denny's receiving a cryptic message from renowned voice actor Peter Cullen? Will he end up aboard a city bus with a dangerous hijacker, or on a plane to Honduras? Or will he find himself staring down the wrong end of a loaded gun? The choices are his... or, rather, yours, as you steer Tupper through his chaotic, life-changing (and potentially life-ending) night.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: As a one-time Choose-Your-Own-Adventure addict, the idea of an updated version for the Kindle - with hotlinks instead of pesky page numbers streamlining the decision-making process - sounded like fun. Unfortunately, there's a fine line between multiple adventure threads and utterly pointless chaos... just as there's a fine line between fun-silly and beat-your-head-against-the-Kindle-cover-silly. Whatley Tupper's adventures cross both lines, repeatedly and callously. A thin and unlikable character, none of his dilemmas or adventures interested me in the least. On the plus side, the format itself intrigued me; instead of sticking a finger in a page at a decision juncture, the Kindle's handy Back button allowed for easy backtracking. It was also so frivolous that I just couldn't be bothered to be angered by it, and it read so quickly (even tracking multiple story paths) that it scarcely made a dent in my time. I'd definitely be open to trying another multiple-ending story on Kindle someday... just not starring Whatley Tupper.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Alternamorphs: The First Passage (K. A. Applegate) - My Review
Usborne Fantasy Quests (Andy Dixon) - My Review
The Dragonology Pocket Adventures (Dugald A. Steer, editor) - My Review

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Serpent of Time (Eugene Woodbury)

Serpent of Time
Eugene Woodbury
Peaks Island Press
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: In feudal Japan, Princess Ryo's fortunes have suffered after her father, the Southern Emperor, yielded to his northern rival. Now, she travels from one gilded cage to another, always a pawn in someone else's power game. But Ryo has a secret - one she herself only learned one fateful day on Lake Riyo. At birth, she was marked by the Serpent of Time, a dragon chained to the service of her ancestors. It claims her life as its own; by giving her life and soul to the dragon, she will free it at last from its cursed existence. But Ryo doesn't know whether she will survive such a bargain. Besides, she is an emperor's daughter: surely she should be the one dictating terms to the dragon, not the other way around. After a failed attempt to rally support for her father, Ryo finds herself on the run from the powerful shogun. Only the Serpent of Time can help her... but at what cost?
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I may be being slightly generous in the rating, here. Princess Ryo and her handmaiden Sen, not to mention the whole of their feudal Japan, feel strangely modern; Ryo even makes disparaging remarks about the "nouveau riche," which certainly doesn't sound like ancient Japanese to me. She comes across more like the stuck-up rich kid from high school than an imperial princess, and her faithful handmaiden Sen seems more like a long-suffering best friend than a servant. The official Amazon description spoils the fact that the Serpent of Time transports Ryo 600 years into the future (our times), but the book itself drags its heels getting to this plot-pivotal moment, sending the exiled princess halfway across Japan and back first. Traveling backwards and forwards through time, she continues dodging enemies and dangers, while slowly realizing that her own royal arrogance is more than half responsible for her current predicament. Fortunately, Ryo manages to keep her royal head while dealing with modern marvels, though I caught more than one slip-up as Woodbury has her refer to modern items by names she hasn't yet learned. Still, at least the book moves, and it has a decently polished feel to it that some direct-to-Kindle efforts sadly lack. (I found my inner editor bristling, though, as Woodbury repeatedly lets "yolk" stand in for the proper term "yoke" - please, authors, it's worth your while to double-check your spellcheck!) The ending felt a little too clean and neat, but I've definitely read much worse.
(And, yes, I know I've been on quite a Kindle kick lately... it's just been more convenient to grab between the numerous other projects I'm trying to keep ahead of right now.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragon's Keep (Janet Lee Carey) - My Review
Found (The Missing sequence, Book 1) (Margaret Peterson Haddix) - My Review
Dragonheart (Charles Edward Pogue) - My Review
Dragon Keeper (Carole Wilkinson) - My Review

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Write As Fast As You Think (Angie Dixon)

Write As Fast As You Think
Angie Dixon
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Writing
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: To any writer, time is money. The more you can write in a month, a week, or even a day, the greater your potential income. So doesn't it make sense to write as quickly as possible? Angie Dixon, a prolific writer of both books and articles, describes her MindWriting (TM) system that allows her to maximize quantity and quality - not to mention profitability.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: As a would-be fiction writer, I've read a small library's worth of books on writing. While each promises a fresh take on the matter, most of them boil down to the same advice, redressed and repackaged. Dixon's writing system, while aimed at nonfiction freelancers, actually presents a different work flow. She targets those areas where writers tend to bog themselves down and lose their way, offering credible solutions to keep on track and increase output. Dixon makes some assumptions that I'm not sure real-world experience bears out; the idea that every mind retains copious amounts of information on first blush, for instance, presupposes a level of reading comprehension and retention that not everyone has developed. I also wondered why, in an ebook format, she didn't hotlink her worksheets for each chapter rather than piling them all at the end of the book. Overall, her system is intriguing. Once I finish the current draft of my latest fiction monstrosity, I might give it a try.

You Might Also Enjoy:
No Plot? No Problem! (Chris Baty) - My Review
The Moonlighter's Guide to Online Writing for Immediate Income (Connie Brentford) - My Review
Write a F*$%ing Book Already (Jim Kukral) - My Review
Words to Write By (Elaine L. Orr) - My Review

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Star Dragon (Mike Brotherton)

Star Dragon
Mike Brotherton
Feedbooks, Inc. (under Creative Commons license)
Fiction, Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: In a future where personal genetic modification is commonplace and Mankind's footprint extends deep into the Milky Way, new wonders seem harder and harder to come by. Then a deep-space probe, sent out centuries ago to a violent binary star formation known as SS Cygni, returns with astonishing footage: a brief, tantalizing glimpse of a serpentine object swimming through superheated plasma... an object that appears to be alive, in conditions that would incinerate even artificial constructs.
The corporate brain of Biolathe, Inc. recruits a five-member crew for a risky mission to confirm the probe's report and - if possible - capture one of these star dragons for study. But the probe that caught the image had very limited capabilities, leaving many questions unanswered about just what it was that it saw... and, in the chaotic maelstrom of SS Cygni, unanswered questions could prove deadly.

REVIEW: This tale of interstellar sci-fi caters to the hardcore science geek. Brotherton, an astrophysicist, leans heavily on industry jargon and college-level technobabble as he hypothesizes not only a biomechanically-based future, but life in a seemingly unlivable environment. Having little but a dusty high-school knowledge of physics, I could only hunker down during the frequent squalls of Science. Between them, the human elements of the crew provide nearly as much tension and drama as the question of the star dragons. Unfortunately, of the five crew members, three proved fundamentally annoying, including the pair most central to the story. Still, watching them spar over relationships, philosophies, and approaches to the problems faced by the mission gave my feeble little brain something to relate to. (I also have to say that, as high and mighty as the Science was that Brotherton marinated the story with, I - an uneducated peon - saw one major plot twist coming a mile away.) As for the star dragons, they were interestingly alien, though the ultimate explanation of their origins drained a little of the sense of wonder. I'm sure if I had a greater knowledge of astrophysics (or just a generally higher IQ) I would've appreciated this story more. As it stands, while I enjoyed some of the mind's eye candy, I just felt too alienated to really connect with it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragons in the Stars (Jeffrey A. Carver) - My Review
The Stardragons (Bob Eggleton and John Grant) - My Review
Ringworld (Larry Niven) - My Review
Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson) - My Review

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Libyco-Berber Alphabet (Bob Idjennaden)

The Libyco-Berber Alphabet
(The Forgotten Civilisations of Africa - Part 1 : The North of Africa)
Bob Idjennaden
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, History/Lettering
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: When most people think of Africa, they think of Egypt, deserts, and primitive tribespeople. Few realize the wealth of history and prehistory of the continent's diverse past, the many civilizations and cultures whose artifacts continue to amaze and puzzle modern archaeologists and anthropologists. One of these relics is the Libyco-Berber written alphabet, which might even predate the so-called first alphabet of the Phoenicians. In this ebook, the author discusses the alphabet's origins, controversies, and continued usage among certain Berber-speaking African cultures.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Another freebie download, I hoped it would help me with my ongoing efforts to generate interesting story ideas. Idjennaden's book makes a decent introduction to the concept of non-Egyptian ancient African cultures, but struggles to find a balance between engaging the uneducated masses and discussing the subject matter and surrounding scientific controversies. Being firmly on the uneducated-mass end of the spectrum, I felt a little lost. It might have been interesting to see more visual aids; more photos of Libyco-Berber artifacts and translations, modern usage, or something to help me connect to this undoubtedly significant archaeological discovery and its ramifications. For what it was, it was reasonably informative, but it never truly engaged my interest or imagination.

You might also enjoy:
Abandoned Places (Lesley and Roy Adkins) - My Review
Just My Type (Simon Garfield) - My Review
The Encyclopedia of Mysterious Places (Robert Ingpen and Philip Wilkinson) - My Review
Mysterious Places (Jennifer Westwood, editor) - My Review

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Goblintown Justice (Matt Forbeck)

Goblintown Justice
(A Shotguns & Sorcery story)
Matt Forbeck
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Max Gibson didn't go out looking for trouble... not that night, at least. But when you're a human mage in Dragon City, trouble has a way of finding you. A scream from a dark alley draws Gibson to a grisly scene: an orc kneeling over a brutally murdered guardswoman. Worse, Gibson recognizes them both, old colleagues from his shady past. Naturally, just then, the Imperial Guard turns up. The orc Sig insists he's no murderer, and Gibson simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the elf guard captain doesn't care; someone's been murdering enough of his mortal underlings to draw the attention of the Imperial Dragon himself, so somebody's going to pay the price. Max doesn't have much time to track down the real killer before the wheels of Dragon City justice crush another innocent victim.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A short story that claims to be a prequel to a longer, more ambitious series, Goblintown Justice quickly sketches in a gritty urban fantasy realm full of desperate, corrupt characters. Gibson's briefly-mentioned past seems far more interesting than this brief detour of an adventure, unfortunately; most of the matter resolves itself without his actually solving anything. In the Afterword, the author writes that this story was born out of an aborted role-playing game idea, which might explain the tendency toward racial/species stereotypes, not to mention why the story felt like an excuse to visit Dragon City's seedy underbelly and characters that, no doubt, will be revisited in future adventures rather than a real hunt for justice. While I can see how interesting tales could indeed play out on the streets of Dragon City, I just wasn't intrigued enough by this brief taste to investigate further.

You might also enjoy:
The Vlad Taltos series (Stephen Brust) - My Review
Finder (Emma Bull) - My Review
The Familiar Dragon series (Daniel Hood) - My Review
Bitterwood (James Maxey) - My Review

An Essay on Dragons (S. Shana)

An Essay on Dragons
S. Shana
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, YA? Fantasy/Folklore
* (Terrible)

DESCRIPTION: This brief essay offers an overview of the popular mythological beast, the dragon.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Possibly the biggest rip-off I've yet downloaded, far less than half of the file actually discusses dragons; the rest consists of page after page of links to the author's other articles and books. The essay itself - written in an unnecessarily large font - barely pretends to scratch the surface of the subject. If this is the extent of the author's knowledge of dragons, they need to move away from coloring books as their source material. (Seriously, I own a dragon coloring book that goes into more depth than this thing.) An exceptionally disappointing waste of five minutes, even as a freebie download.
(EDIT - It seems that this selection has mysteriously vanished from Amazon's archives.  Strange...)

You might also enjoy:
Tales of Great Dragons (J. K. Anderson) - My Review
Step Inside Dragons (Gaby Goldsack, Nick Harris, and Richard Jewitt) - My Review
How to Raise and Keep a Dragon (John Topsell, Joseph Nigg "editor") - My Review

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Cry Out of Time (J. L. Redington)

A Cry Out of Time
(The Esme Chronicles, Book 1)
J. L. Redington
Judy Bristow, Publisher
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Fifteen-year-old Esme never believed in ghosts... until her parents took her for a month's stay at the old Heceta House on the Oregon Coast. Reputed to be one of the most haunted houses in America, visitors report the apparitions of an old woman and a little girl who opens doors and flips light switches. Esme wasn't sure she believed all that stuff, until she starts hearing and seeing things. Even stranger, while Esme can see and hear the house's spirit, her parents are oblivious to the ghost in their midst. The little girl seems bound to Esme in some way, even influencing her dreams. If she can't help the ghost of Heceta House, Esme's coastal vacation may become her own grave.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A simplistic ghost story, A Cry Out of Time tries too hard not to spook younger readers. The characters tend toward shallow sketches, invariably friendly (if affably clueless, like Esme's parents), and even the presence of a ghost barely elicits any fear. The dead girl hits it off surprisingly well with a modern teen, despite being the product of another time and, essentially, another culture. Usually, ghost stories have a mystery at their core, but the "mystery" here is too obvious to be properly labeled as such. There's a little ghostly action, a lot of silliness, and a moment-of-truth revelation in which Esme has to learn to look beyond her own insecurities for the sake of others. And that's about it. I have to wonder if this was ever intended to be a stand-alone story or simply a setup for the implied series to come. Either way, I found it too flimsy to engage my interest.
(I also have to wonder if anyone bothers double-checking their spelling and grammar software; once again, homophones slip through in ways that make the author seem amateur. "Bazaar" is a marketplace, not a synonym for "strange" - like the intended word "bizarre.")

You might also enjoy:
Devil's Race (Avi) - My Review
The Wish List (Eoin Colfer) - My Review
The Ghost in the Third Row (Bruce Coville) - My Review
Ghost Ship (Dietlof Reiche) - My Review

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Casting Shadows (J. Kelley Anderson)

Casting Shadows
J. Kelley Anderson
World Castle Publishing
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: When Edward Kelley's beloved sister Beth died, the last of his humanity seemed to die with her. Already embittered by the deaths of their missionary parents, his anger at the world and the heartless, hypocritical people infesting it consumed his very soul. How could the same loving God he once prayed to, the God his ill-fated sister embraced so wholeheartedly, allow such terrible things to happen - and how could the town he grew up in turn their backs on him when he needed them most?
Perhaps he should've been more skeptical when the mysterious envelope arrived on his doorstep, containing the details of a dark ritual to contact the entity known as Seth. Perhaps dabbling in powers beyond his comprehension was a bad idea, even deadly. But Edward's life wasn't worth living anymore as it was; if he could gain the power to take down the rest of suburban Hurst, Ohio with him, why the Hell not?
When Edward manages to summon a skeletal servant, doubts begin to plague him. Vincent makes him question his self-destructive hatred, offering him a glimpse of the human heart that still beats in his own chest. But Seth - and the mysterious stranger who started Edward on the black path - won't let go of their protege so easily... and some paths, once started down, cannot be lightly turned aside. Suddenly, the angry young man finds himself hunted by a powerful enemy, wielding forces he scarcely comprehends - all to save not only himself, but the very town he once vowed to see burned to the ground.

REVIEW: Placing ancient magicks in an unexpected contemporary setting may not be new territory, but Casting Shadows makes it feel fresh. Anderson weaves in threads of Russian folklore as he establishes a magic system that relies more on the caster's own subconscious than any teachable rituals; Edward can be given the tools, but not the knowledge to use them, and figuring out how his own powers work teaches him nothing of what other casters can and cannot do. Starting fairly quickly, the story moves at a good pace, establishing interesting characters and the unique magic system along the way without significantly holding up the plot. The troubled, angry protagonist finds himself transformed from a would-be villain to a would-be savior, but not without some setbacks and sidetracks as he tries to come to grips with his own emotions. His sidekicks - the skeletal servant Vincent and a jovial, if foul-mouthed, cop friend, plus a mysterious ally who might be more dangerous than his enemy - can only carry him so far; the path of magic is a path that can only be walked alone. Some distant religious undercurrents threatened to turn the story into a Christian tale of salvation, but - surprisingly - they stayed distant enough not to interfere with the plot, leaving many gray shades between Good and Evil and no clear-cut answers. The story lost a point mostly due to poor proofreading; many instances of wrong words and bad formatting in general grew distracting over the course of the book. (I read the Kindle version, so perhaps that explains the formatting problems, but it wouldn't explain errors such as "hear" instead of "here.") I also thought some elements wanted further exploration. Overall, though, I enjoyed Casting Shadows, and wouldn't mind revisiting the universe if Anderson chooses to continue it.

You might also enjoy:
Song for the Basilisk (Patricia McKillip) - My Review
Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud) - My Review
Devil's Tower (Mark Sumner) - My Review
Dragon's Bait (Vivian Vande Velde) - My Review