Thursday, May 31, 2012

How to Take Great Photographs With Any Camera (Peter Creighton)

How to Take Great Photographs With Any Camera
Peter Creighton
Peter Creighton, publisher
Nonfiction, Art/Photography
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Thousand-dollar SLRs, hundred-dollar casual cameras, cheapie single-shot jobs from the grocery store... in this day and age, when even phones come equipped with a lens, there are more options than ever for the amateur photographer. But, really, to get anything decent, you have to spend a hefty chunk of your paycheck, don't you? Not necessarily. The author, a professional photographer, explains how a little basic knowledge can make any shot better, no matter what camera you use.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A quick and easy read, this eBook delivers exactly what the title promises. Creighton demonstrates how much of photography hinges not on the equipment but on the person holding the camera. With brief overviews of composition, lighting, and other concepts, he gets his point across in a way that even the greenest would-be shutterbug can understand. Of course, anyone interested in real, professional-grade photography can and should seek out further instruction elsewhere, but for the casual picture-taker who wants to improve their snapshots, this is a good choice.
(I notice that there is an Extended Edition of this title available via Amazon, as well. I cannot speak for its content, as I only read the original during a freebie download window.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
On Feathered Wings: Birds in Flight (Richard Ettlinger) - My Review
Clouds (Pekka Parviainen) - My Review
Artist's Photo Reference: Wildlife (Bart Rulon) - My Review

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Quill Pen (Michelle Isenhoff)

The Quill Pen
Michelle Isenhoff
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: In a small Northeastern coastal town in 19th-century America, the boy Micah Randall yearns for wild places, the open frontiers he reads about in books, where railroads and progress don't box a man's life in like the walls of his father's general store. But he is a Randall, son of a prosperous line, and it seems his future is already inked in the family ledgers. Rented out like a mule to the old widow Parsons, Micah discovers a strange treasure while sorting through the woman's attic: a quill pen, golden as the rising sun, which needs no ink to write. Captivated, he sneaks it out of the burn pile and back to his home, where he discovers that the words it writes have a strange way of coming true. So much power - to cast off his father's crushing yoke, to heal the rifts of his town, to live out his own dreams - sets the boy's head spinning... but no magic comes without cost. The quill pen's gifts come with a terrible curse, one that has already claimed many lives through the centuries. Even as he realizes the dangers, the pen's curse threatens those he loves the most. Can the cowardly boy find the courage to end an evil as old as the sea itself?

REVIEW: This book nearly earned a solid Good rating. It tells itself with an almost lyrical beauty, describing the life of a pastoral coastal village feeling the first tugs toward the modern, industrialized world. Unfortunately, the descriptions grow a bit thick, drawing out the story as the narrative wanders down various side-streets. The quill pen itself doesn't even make an appearance for a good stretch while characters and the setting are laboriously established. Indeed, the whole tale of the quill pen often feels more like a backdrop than the main storyline. Micah also spends too long without a spine, crippled by his cowardice and fear of his own father. The burst of action at the end caught me by surprise, given the long build-up. That said, it's not a bad book by any means. Isenhoff's writing is eminently readable, and the story has a nice polish. It just moved too slowly for my tastes.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Beyond the Western Sea (Avi) - My Review
Inkheart (Cornelia Funke) - My Review
The Book of Story Beginnings (Kristin Kladstrup) - My Review

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May Site Update

I've archived and cross-linked the previous 11 reviews on the main Brightdreamer Books page.
(As an aside, this update pushes the total archived reviews over 900.)


Friday, May 25, 2012

Never Let Your Cat Make Lunch for You (Lee Harris)

Never let Your Cat Make Lunch for You
Lee Harris, illustrations by Debbie Tilley
Tricycle Press
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: While Pebbles the cat excels at preparing a healthy breakfast (save the odd cat hair), she just can't be trusted with some meals... as her young owner learns the hard way.

REVIEW: Another while-things-were-slow-at-work read, I found myself smiling at this one. The scribbly images capture the tale's whimsical feel, as the girl narrator explains her cat's culinary flaws with the air of a loving but slightly exasperated parent. A light, fun read, especially for cat-lovers.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Heart of a Tiger (Marsha Diane Arnold) - My Review
Cat Hiss-Tory: A Feline Tour Through the Ages (Bill Bell) - My Review
Comet's Nine Lives (Jan Brett) - My Review

Children Make Terrible Pets (Lee Brown)

Children Make Terrible Pets
Peter Brown
Little, Brown Books
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Lucy the bear finds the cutest thing in the woods: a human boy. Though her mother warns her that they make terrible pets, Lucy just can't let little Squeak go!

REVIEW: We had more down time at work today; I read this while waiting for things to start back up again. A fun little book, it confirms what many a parent likely already knows. Lucy has to learn the hard way that just because something's cute doesn't mean it's meant to be a house pet. The illustrations are simple and fun, matching the story perfectly.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Bruce Coville) - My Review
The Dragonling series (Jackie French Koller) - My Review
The Dragon That Ate Summer (Rebecca Seabrooke) - My Review
You're Finally Here! (Mélanie Watt) - My Review

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Detective Guide Book (Alfred John Peebles)

The Detective Guide Book
Albert John Peebles
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Crime
* (Terrible)

DESCRIPTION: With more people, a worsening economy, and law enforcement agencies facing greater cutbacks, crime is on the rise, and the demand for private investigators is higher than ever. Learn how to investigate crimes with this quick-reference guide.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I don't often resort to direct quotations from the books I read, but in this case I feel I must make an exception. First off, I downloaded this on the mistaken presumption that Peebles was some sort of private detective or law enforcement official. He isn't. So, how did he come up with this manual? His wife suggested he write it. To quote Peebles (and, yes, this is verbatim as it appears): "Well I watched hundreds of crime shows on the tube for months on end. Sometimes we watched movies and crime stories from morning to night. ... What I did was write notes and summaries statements. This went on for a while, because not only was I gaining information, but also I taught myself the field of detective work from the TV!" Now, I'm hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even I know that crime dramas and "true life" crime television are at best skewed portrayals of the reality of criminal investigations. Claiming the authority to write a detective guide after watching TV is like applying for a job as a surgeon after an ER marathon.
As questionable as his research methods are, however, I can respect Peebles's intentions, offering people the tools they need to survive in an increasingly crime-ridden world, where even our police officers seem incapable of solving anything. He goes on to assert: "Most of our law enforcement people can become like our comic book super heroes if given the right tools, and that is what I want to do with this crime fighters Manuel." Who is this Manuel, who can solve any crime better than trained investigators? He must be a super hero, indeed! Maybe, someday, he can take a break from his crime-fighting schedule to visit Peebles and teach him basic English spelling and grammar, as the author tells would-be private eyes to watch for "plands of murder" and "people with bad boundary sysems; not respected of privacy or personal body space." Sound advice, I'm sure. In addition, "When you follow leads, and lead the evidence, take you places somewhere along the way a pattern will emerge." Yes, that was written exactly as it appeared in The Detective Guide Book - and, yes, typing it made my inner editor cry. Of course, my inner editor was already curled up in a fetal position after reading endless chapters and repetitive, all-caps lists stuffed to the gills with references to "preceived sociopaths" and "extreme skitzophrenics," admonishing investigators to "what closely for lies."
Now, understand that, in addition to watching hundreds - hundreds! - of hours of TV, Peebles states that he also attended college: "I have taken courses at college in assertiveness training, studied doctorate level psychology, and have taken a number of courses." Either English wasn't one of them, or he took the advice of those eBook publishing manuals that advocate outsourcing the actual writing portion of producing an eBook - to someone in a non-English-speaking country, I suspect. There is a third possibility, one that Peebles himself offers in what may be a "Fruedian" slip: "Guilty parties often act and talk in strange ways."
With luck, someone in the law enforcement community will read The Detective Guide Book and turn up on Peebles's doorstep. If nothing else, he's guilty of felony-level crimes against the English language.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review

Monday, May 21, 2012

How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (Russell Blake)

How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time
Russell Blake
Manana Publishing
Fiction, Humor
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Working hard, slaving away over a keyboard for years, revising and polishing until you finally produce a flawless diamond of a story, then watching that diamond shine and sparkle in the public limelight while fame and royalties rain down upon your head... every writer dreams of that moment. But, really, isn't it the journey itself that is the true reward?
Maybe, if you're a sap.
Come on - we all know that it's all about the cash. All those famous authors who wax poetic about the hardships of "the craft" are just trying to throw others off the scent. Follow their questionable advice, or read any of those other writing books on the market, and you're guaranteed to get lost in the swamps of mediocrity. And while you're flailing about being bitten to death by the malarial mosquitoes of failure, the Stephen Kings and Tom Clancys of the world are getting a big laugh over how they've duped you.
What's the real secret, then? Just write (or "borrow") a book, then sell a good gazillion copies. Yes, it's really that easy! It's not magic, and it's not a con, whatever you may think. It's all math, and math never lies. Following Russell Blake's trademarked plan, you, too, could be riding high off the hog - or the purebred Arabian, or the customized Porsche, or whatever's your fancy - in no time flat.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A fun idea, parodying self-publishing get-rich-quick books, this book sinks under its own weight. Blake repeats himself, driving the same jokes home again and again until they lose whatever humor they originally held - then returning to repeat them a few chapters later in case the reader had forgotten. The whole thing feels ponderously overwritten. I found myself skimming before the halfway point just to keep turning pages. This might've worked better as a shorter book... much shorter. As it was, it was just too heavy-handed to tickle my funny bone.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Things To Do While Avoiding Things To Do (Mark J. Asher) - My Review
How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy) (Julia Cameron) - My Review
How Not to Write a Novel (Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman) - My Review

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne)

Game Over - Extended Edition
Todd Thorne
Todd Thorne, publisher
Fiction, YA? Horror/Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: With his parents going through a bitter divorce, Timmy becomes a pawn in their vicious power games. As if that weren't bad enough, the boy has to contend with the monstrous aftermath of a VR challenge with a schoolmate, Joshua. Only by winning a rematch can Timmy rid himself of the nightly visitor - but Joshua's already written him off as an unworthy opponent. He needs to concoct a truly horrific simulation to best the beast. If only he could find some inspiration...
This Kindle-exclusive edition features an extra, alternate scene.

REVIEW: Though the main characters are kids, the fear and gore level rank fairly high, which is why I qualified the Young Adult ranking; I've read some very dark Teen/YA tales, but this might very well have been intended for mature audiences. That said, I enjoyed it. It starts fairly fast, establishes its characters and its universe without resorting to info-dumps, and wends through terrors material and psychological on its way to a fairly dark conclusion. Given my usual iffy luck with short stories, I enjoyed it all the more.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Chamber of Horrors series (Bruce Coville) - My Review
The 2099 series (John Peel) - My Review
The Otherland quartet (Tad Williams) - My Review
Dreamscape - Amazon DVD link

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Wizard's Towers (Rhondi Vilott)

The Wizard's Towers
(A Dragon Roads book)
Rhondi Vilott, illustrations by Kirk Miller
Rhondi Vilott Salsitz, publisher
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: A young bard-in-training, Colin arrives in the kingdom of King Baldin to perform at court and further his education in music and spells. It seems a good and prosperous realm... but soon trouble darkens the domain. The court wizard, Rexor, has a fight with Baldin, and vanishes from the castle - taking the king's youngest daughter, Thaya, as hostage. The princess helped Colin after a run-in with bullies, so he feels he owes her. Armed with a small dagger and his lute, on which he can (sometimes) play a charm spell, Colin sets out to rescue Thaya from Rexor's clutches.
As Colin, you must use your wits and your courage in the face of devious illusions, terrifying monsters, and other dangers. Can you rescue the princess and best the wizard, or will you find yourself trapped forever in Rexor's enchanted towers?
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I considered dropping this a half-star. At its heart, it's mostly a Fluffy Bunny story: though the reader/Colin may face troubles, none of them are outright deadly, and the worst that happens is that he finds himself trapped... sometimes in the wrong body, or in his own mind. The characters also tend to morph depending on which path one takes. In some, Rexor is merely misunderstood, harboring a legitimate grudge against Baldin, while in others he's a heartless sorcerer doing his level best to blast Colin to smithereens. Thaya even swings from being an innocent victim to a spoiled princess fully deserving her fate. (There's a hint of sexism here, with the helpless girl needing to be rescued by a boy.) Those issues aside, Vilott pieces together quite an elaborate web of paths for readers to follow, filled with imaginative (if fairly lightweight) wonders and dangers. Since re-readability is one of the main draws of choose-a-path stories, The Wizard's Towers counts as a strong success here.
In the final balance, taking into account the pluses and minuses and considering the target age, I came out with a solid Okay rating. Young children, or parents reading to young children, ought to enjoy Colin's many magical adventures, so long as nobody expects too much out of it. Less stereotyping, more character consistency across the story paths, and a little more tooth to Colin's peril might have kicked it up another half-mark.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Deltora Quest: The Forests of Silence (Emily Rodda) - My Review
Dragonology Pocket Adventures (Dugald A. Steer, editor) - My Review
The Dragon Box (Katie W. Stewart) - My Review

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Slow Your Prose (James W. Lewis)

Slow Your Prose
James W. Lewis
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Writing
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: With the advent of e-books, more people than ever are realizing their dreams of becoming a published author. No longer must you run the gauntlet of publishing house gatekeepers or literary agent slushpiles, endlessly revising and waiting long years before finally seeing your book in print; the only thing between your manuscript and the world is a few hours of formatting. But just because it's easier than ever to publish doesn't mean you or your story are ready for the limelight. Don't you owe it to yourself to "slow your roll" and make sure you're producing the best, most polished prose you can before you show it to the rest of the reading public? Lewis, a self-published author, offers 25 essential tips for anyone who wants to realize their writing and publishing dreams.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A fast (roughly half an hour) read, this ebook does precisely what it states at the outset, offering would-be independent authors (or "indies") a list of tips, hints, and general things to keep in mind. As he states, the ease of publishing on ebook formats has proved a mixed blessing, and for every undiscovered diamond one can sift through heaps of glass and gravel. Most of this boils down to people too excited to slow down and take a critical look at their own work - the sort of deliberate analysis that used to be a given in traditional publishing. (Not that some clunkers haven't been rushed through publication, but it doesn't happen nearly as often as inexperienced authors post half-baked drafts on Amazon.) The points he makes, however, I've already read elsewhere, and in greater depth. Still, he presents his information clearly, and in a well-polished format. Since I downloaded it during a freebie window, I'm not disappointed.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) (Jack M. Bickham) - My Review
Writing Tools (Roy Peter Clark) - My Review
Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass) - My Review

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Motivation Myth (Mattison Grey and Jonathan Manske)

The Motivation Myth
Mattison Grey and Jonathan Manske
Nonfiction, Business/Self-Help
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: For decades, we have been told that praise and positive recognition lead to increased happiness, improved work performance, and better lives... yet most of us are just as miserable as ever. The "feedback sandwich" - slipping negatives between layers of positives - has been force-fed to workers, clients, children, and spouses until we're all ready to choke. Businesses spend millions of dollars annually on pep rallies and seminars to boost morale, but none of it ever seems to take. We should be swimming in motivation, but we're drowning in mediocrity.
What's wrong?
The problem, according to Grey and Manske, is a fundamental flaw in how we understand and interact with our fellow human beings. It's not praise that we're seeking, nor is it criticism. It's the simple, yet powerful, act of acknowledgement. Using this, they have turned underachievers into go-getters, saved business and personal relationships... in short, they've managed to achieve the results that all those pricey motivation speakers and feedback sandwiches have failed to produce. Learn how to use acknowledgement to improve your own life, and find the key to truly motivating yourself and others.

REVIEW: Backing their claims with numerous studies, articles, and anecdotes, Grey and Manske explain what many of us know: just as negative feedback leads to poor performance and self-image, positive feedback often leads to second-guessing, skepticism, or even fear of moving out of one's comfort zone. They offer many, many studies, articles, and anecdotes... too many, in my opinion. Between that, and the way they string readers along for four full chapters before even explaining what their book is about, my eyes tended to glaze over. I'm not discounting the idea of acknowledgement as a powerful communication tool, but this book would've been more effective at one-third to half its current length.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely) - My Review
Supplies (Julia Cameron) - My Review
Hocus Pocus, You're Focused! (Arthur Laud) - My Review

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Sign of the Four (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

The Sign of the Four
(A Sherlock Holmes novel, Book 2)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Mystery
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: The famed London detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend, Doctor John Watson, have investigated a great many mysteries large and small in their time together. Living with the moody man, however, can try even a doctor's patience... especially when Sherlock turns to chemical stimulation when he cannot find any cases worthy of his attention. When Miss Mary Morstan comes to them, Watson only hopes her problem can engage Sherlock's prodigious intellect more meaningfully than the vial of cocaine in the desk drawer. Her tale puts the duo on the trail of a lost treasure, a long-ago betrayal, and a killer determined to settle old scores, no matter what - or who - gets in their way.

REVIEW: Once again, Doyle excels at painting interesting character portraits, granting nearly everyone a unique face and personality and history. Comparatively, the crime is almost an afterthought. The investigation seems a trifle convoluted at times, though this may be due to my reading circumstances. (A project came up that interrupted my reading for days at a time.) Watson, as usual, can only watch in wonderment and confusion as Holmes puts together the pieces, though the good doctor finds his own, very personal reasons to pursue the culprit and see justice done. Unlike A Study in Scarlet, the book doesn't stop itself dead in its tracks for a prolonged flashback; characters spend plenty of time relating their tragic histories, but not to the point of derailing the here-and-now of the investigation. Given my usual luck with mysteries, I enjoyed it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Study in Scarlet (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
The Ruby in the Smoke (Philip Pullman) - My Review
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) - My Review
Sherlock: Season One - Amazon DVD link

Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)

Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak
Harper Collins
Fiction, YA Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Wearing his wolf suit, young Max turns into a terror, until his mother sends him to bed without supper. Disappearing into a forest of his own imagining, he travels to a land where wild things rule.

REVIEW: Since Sendak's death, this book has seen a resurgence in popularity at the library... and, once again, I found it on top of the bin during a slow time at work. (And, no, I hadn't read this before.) Like most picture books, the words read fast, but there's a little more to Sendak's tale than a fast read and colorful pictures. Max has to work through his own emotions, without adults dropping sugar-sweetened lessons onto his head. The illustrations remain classics. It lingers in the memory, and on the bookshelves, for a reason.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Night of the Gargoyles (Eve Bunting) - My Review
The Gargoyle on the Roof (Jack Prelutsky) - My Review
Sir Toby Jingle's Beastly Journey (Wallace Tripp) - My Review

I Want My Hat Back (Jon Klassen)

I Want My Hat Back
Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press
Fiction, YA Picture Book
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: When a bear's hat goes missing, he searches the whole forest over, asking everyone he meets about it... only to finally remember where he last saw it.

REVIEW: We had a slow day at work, and this was on the top of the bin. It reads fast, and I liked the ending. The artwork's simple, but it gets the idea across. I've read worse.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Knight and the Dragon (Tomie DePaola)- My Review
The Paper Bag Princess (Robert N. Munsch) - My Review
You're Finally Here! (Mélanie Watt) - My Review