Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August Site Update

I've updated the main site, Brightdreamer Books, with the previous 14 book reviews.


Monday, August 27, 2012

The Forever Contract (Avery Sawyer)

The Forever Contract
Avery Sawyer
Planet Explorers Publishing
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Between the drought, rampant unemployment, and the rationing, the future looks increasingly bleak. Fortunately, there's a way out. By signing the Forever Contract, anyone over the age of 17 can opt to live in a virtual paradise while their body is stored away on minimal life support. It saves resources for the government, and it's a chance for the sort of happiness people can only read about in history books. Once inside, there's no going back... but who would want to return to a reality this hopeless?
Casey Stanford's brother, Ben, signed the contract; through their virtual visits, he tells her how great it is, how much he's looking forward to the day when the rest of the family joins him. With her birthday only a week away, she's ready to follow him into eternal escape - but one thing still troubles her. James, her boyfriend, not only doesn't intend to sign the contract, but he's convinced that something sinister is going on, something the government doesn't want the people to know. Casey doesn't want to live forever without the love of her life, but James remains stubbornly paranoid about the Forever Contract. When she reluctantly agrees to help him investigate, they both discover truths far worse than anything they imagined... and enemies too far beyond the law to be stopped.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A young-adult take on a Matrix-style futuristic dystopia, the truth behind the Forever Contract may be fairly obvious to any outsider who reads or watches sci-fi. Still, Sawyer does a good job portraying two characters struggling to understand their hopeless reality, fighting for freedom when it's no longer clear just what that term means anymore. The story moves fairly quickly, ratcheting up the stakes. It was on its way to a Good rating, maybe even a Good and a half, until I ran head-first into the sudden full-stop of an ending, an ending that leaves many balls hanging in mid-air. Until then, I enjoyed the ride.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Killobyte (Piers Anthony) - My Review
The Shadow Children sequence (Margaret Peterson Haddix) - My Review
The Otherland quartet (Tad Williams) - My Review

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Be Your Own Editor: A Writer's Guide to Perfect Prose (Sigrid Macdonald)

Be Your Own Editor: A Writer's Guide to Perfect Prose
Sigrid Macdonald
Nonfiction, Writing
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Any author knows that editing makes all the difference in writing, be it an Internet article or a multi-volume epic. But hiring a professional editor can be time-consuming and costly. Learn how to edit your own works with this guide, written by a professional editor.

REVIEW: As the title implies, this eBook offers advice from an expert, covering everything from punctuation and grammar to structure and content. Macdonald's tips work for fiction and nonfiction alike, no matter the length or intended market. She even offers a timely section on e-mail etiquette, as well as a chapter on when it's okay to set your inner editor aside. A fast read, the advice seems sound. My only real complaint is with the formatting of the eBook edition; Macdonald should have been able to link her footnotes, instead of sticking in distracting, unlinked numbers. (At the very least, she might have put footnotes at the end of the relevant chapter, instead of shoving them all at the end - long past the point when I remembered just which note went with which section.) All in all, this is a handy guide for any writer.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) (Jack M. Bickham) - My Review
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne and Davie King) - My Review
The Everything Grammar and Style Book (Susan Thurman) - My Review

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

All My Friends Are Still Dead (Avery Monsen and Jory John)

All My Friends Are Still Dead
Avery Monsen and Jory John
Chronicle Books
Fiction, Humor
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Sometimes it's hard to make friends. It's especially hard when everyone around you is a loser, replaceable, or just plain deceased. So cheer yourself up - however lonely you are, you can't be as lonely as the people in this book.

REVIEW: We had more down time at work today, and I found this book in the sorting area. Sequel to All My Friends Are Dead (which I've seen go through the library, but haven't managed to pin down for a reading yet), this is a subversive, silly little picture book that appeals to grown-ups more than children. Death and loneliness have never been funnier!

You Might Also Enjoy:
Field Guide to the Apocalypse (Meghann Marco) - My Review
The Darwin Awards (Wendy Northcut) - My Review
Consuming Passions - (Amazon DVD link)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Darkroot (Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan)

(The Rhyme of the Willow series, Book 1)
Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Since passing through the willow into the dark, dangerous world of the Garden, Axton and Aniva Rhyme have slowly adapted to a world with no sunlight and no animal life: only humans, a fanastic variety of plants, and plant-infected humans known as Wilds. While Axton still seeks clues to their lost parents' whereabouts, Aniva considers his search a waste of time, still full of anger at being abandoned. Besides, they're hardly the same children their parents once knew. Both have been irrevocably transformed since the Green Witch pulled them through the willow - literally. Infected by Wilds, they are now Crows, transforming into winged, shadow-feeding beings whenever they are in darkness. Aniva carries the extra curse of the Blood Demon, changing into an unstoppable monster at the mere sight of blood. The humans of the Lighthavens fear and hate all Wilds, driving them from their midst and killing them without hesitation... a hatred that might soon be repaid in blood.
Following a clue left by the ever-cryptic Green Witch, Axton and Aniva travel to the powerful Lighthaven of Fire Grove. Here, Axton hopes to find his parents, or at least a fresh trail to follow... a hope tempered by fear of what would happen if he and his sister were found out as Wilds. Fire Grove's populace hates Wilds with a passion, all too ready to start a witch hunt to protect themselves. But fear of discovery soon becomes the least of the Rhyme children's worries, as lethal Darkroots strike in the very heart of the Lighthaven.

REVIEW: The second installment in this trilogy picks up fairly close to where the previous book left off, with just enough refreshers in the narrative to remind the reader where things stand. Once I got my bearings again, I was off on another fast, wild adventure with the Rhyme twins. Some old allies (and rivals) follow them to Fire Grove, and they pick up some new ones along the way, each with a little more to them than is initially revealed. The Rhyme children have both grown and changed, though they still have more to learn about this world and themselves. The Garden continues to present fresh wonders and dangers to explore. It almost earned itself another half-star, until I hit the abrupt cliffhanger of an ending. I'm not sure how the Sullivans intend to wrap up the many threads of the trilogy in one more book, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Everworld series (K. A. Applegate) - My Review
Coraline (Neil Gaiman) - My Review
The 100 Cupboards trilogy (N. D. Wilson) - My Review

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Arcana Universalis: Terminus (Chris J. Randolph)

Arcana Universalis: Terminus
(Arcana Universalis, Part 1)
Chris J. Randolph
Oktopod Digital Press
Fiction, Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: For thousands of years, under the reign of the glorious emperor Spiritus LXX, human civilization has stretched across the stars. With magic as the backbone of technology, the rule of arcanists stands unchallenged by man or alien... save a few heretic races, backwards and violent people hardly worth mentioning. But, as all stars eventually collapse, all empires must fall. The reign of Spiritus, and perhaps humanity itself, now stands upon that brink, though it does not yet know it.
The apprentice boy Caleb barely made it through his education at the Academy; his second sight is weak, and he barely commands any native power. Marginal as his talents are, and dim as his prospects for future employment seem, at least he has it better than the ungifted masses. Still, sometimes it's hard to remember to be grateful, especially during his grueling externship aboard the starship Ashkalon, where he's more likely to be shoveling out the lifestock pens than actually studying magic. When the ship is diverted to investigate a possible crash site, at least it's a break from the routine. But this seemingly benign detour may have dire consequences, for the crew of the Ashkalon and the empire - not to mention the boy Caleb.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: The first part of a longer work, Arcana Universalis: Terminus sets up an imaginative, intriguing world, where magic has replaced far-future technology. Through Caleb, the reader explores a starship powered by arcane arts, and gets a taste of the empire behind this anachronistic wonder. Unfortunately, Terminus ends just before it establishes the story arc for the whole Universalis project... an arc hinted at, in somewhat grandiose prose, during the prologue. It was frustrating, to hit the end when I felt the story itself had barely begun. Still, Randolph's world intrigued me enough that I expect I'll read on, at least through the second installment (which, like this one, was a freebie download.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Dragons in the Stars (Jeffrey A. Carver) - My Review
Starclimber (Kenneth Oppel) - My Review
Larklight (Philip Reeve) - My Review

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shelly's Second Chance (L B Swan and Hope Chandler)

Shelly's Second Chance
(The Wish Granters series, Book 1)
L B Swan and Hope Chandler
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Alanna met her fate in the form of a rogue wave while bodysurfing off Florida. Joe barely saw the truck that broadsided him into the next world. Now, they wake in a place called Transition, with little memory of their former lives. What happens next depends on how they handle the task they've been assigned: wish granters, ghostly guardians who help grant a person's single wish. It sounds simple enough, but nothing in life - or the afterlife - is ever easy.
Shelly came from humble roots, and - despite having a great job and a perfect fiance - is still waiting for her big win. Oh, she's not like those problem gamblers, the sad sacks at those Gamblers Anonymous meetings that Ben insisted she attend when he found out about her hobby. She's smarter than that, using her prodigal math skills to develop a system that, statistically, should be paying off any day. When she spends her engagement money on dud lottery tickets, she just knows Ben will be so furious he'll call off their marriage. If she could have one wish in the world, she'd hit her jackpot, so she could show him, and herself, that she isn't just wasting her money like a hopeless addict.
As Joe and Alanna work to help their first client, Shelly, they quickly learn that their job as wish granters is much harder than it appears... especially when Shelly's choices spark memories of their own forgotten lives - and deaths.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Though this story started reasonably fast, it took me a little while to warm to it. The idea of ghosts paying off debts by helping the living is hardly new, and the pseudo-religious overtones made me leery. I've also had poor luck with romance-based titles in the past; this may not be a bodice-ripper or a One True Love story, but relationships and love form the heart of the tale, making it a romance in my book. Fortunately, the authors focus more on the characters than the theology. Shelly starts out a fairly typical addict in denial, but slowly earns sympathy as more of her story reveals itself. Joe and Alanna start out knowing little more than the reader about themselves; as they begin remembering their pasts, they develop into their own characters, finding themselves both fascinated and bewildered at how they treated their own brief, precious gift of life. The overall story arc may have had a fairly predictable outcome, but I cared enough about the people not to let that bother me. Shelly's story wraps up in this book, but Joe and Alanna are just beginning their adventures in the afterlife.
All in all, this one exceeded my expectations. I'd even consider following the series through another book... especially if it ever turns up as a freebie download.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Bright Shadow (Avi) - My Review
The Wish List (Eoin Colfer) - My Review
The Quill Pen (Michelle Isenhoff) - My Review

Monday, August 13, 2012

Secrets to Writing Your First eBook and Getting It Online (Haphiza Baboolal)

Secrets to Writing Your First eBook and Getting It Online
Haphiza Baboolal
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Business/Writing
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: These days, it seems like everyone has an eBook available on Amazon, covering all manner of subjects, from the frivolous to the serious. Do you have something to add? The author explains how to choose a topic, conduct research, format, and upload an eBook using free tools found online.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I'm a little torn on my rating. Granted, this is not an in-depth book on writing, or on marketing. At only 11 pages, it outlines the bare bones of e-publishing simple self-help titles, and nothing more. However, in all honesty, this is all Baboolal promises. He explains the process simply enough, though I can't help suspecting that there's a little more to it than what he describes here. If nothing else, with slapdash how-to eBooks flooding the virtual shelves, standing out among the pack isn't nearly as easy as the brief marketing section here indicates. There are also several editing and syntax errors, though not nearly so many (or so glaring) as other titles I've read.
Even though I'm not fond of the "crank out a Google-researched advice book, rake in the income" mentality that eBooks like this perpetuate, I cannot fault it for being what it is. That, and that alone, spared it a flat Bad rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Moonlighter's Guide to Online Writing for Immediate Income (Connie Brentford) - My Review
Write a F*$%ing Book Already (Jim Kukral) - My Review
Profit from the eBook Revolution (Bob Perry) - My Review

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Imaginality of Somewhere (Someone)

The Imaginality of Somewhere
(The Imaginality series, Volume 1)
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*+ (Terrible/Bad)

DESCRIPTION: Many city kids, forced to move to a farm in the middle of nowhere, would be angry, or at least depressed, but not Ellie and Thomas. This farm once belonged to their great-grandmother Grathie; she used to tell them stories about a hidden magical world, known as Somewhere, that could be found in just such a place. Ellie, ever the adventurer, just knows Somewhere is real, and can't wait to find it, despite the skepticism of her more rational twin brother. Even learning that the farmland hasn't produced a viable crop in decades can't dampen her enthusiasm. When the kids stumble upon the key to the magical portal, they can hardly believe they're standing inside Grathie's stories... only Somewhere isn't the paradise their great-grandmother described. Something's gone wrong in the magical world, and it's up to Ellie and Thomas to set things right.

REVIEW: I think this may be the quintessential Fluffy Bunny story. It's composed of generic, snap-together components, like the Brainy Boy, the Brave Girl, the Mysterious Stranger, the Magical World and its Friendly Denizens, and so forth, held together with sugar and bubblewrap. The children seem to have sprung into existence simply to have this magical adventure; they don't miss television or the Internet, and actually carry fully-loaded backpacks of "adventure gear" (color-coordinated with their compass wristwatches) like characters out of a bad Saturday morning cartoon series. For that matter, their parents seem several degrees too foolish to function as adults, somehow convinced that they can turn a profit off a nonproductive farm when top-scientist Dad can't even figure out how a tractor works. Somewhere is one of those worlds unique to Fluffy Bunny fantasies, where the dense yet helpful residents suffer for years, decades even, under problems that underage outside visitors resolve in a single afternoon's light questing. Everyone's a friend except for the villain, and even he really isn't so bad after a good, firm talking-to by the heroes. Sinking this tale further in the ratings, the author (the ever-so-cleverly pseudonymed "Someone") not only repeats herself incessantly, but gets far too clever for her own good with the narrative. Still, I suppose there must be an audience for this sort of bland, no-calorie snack of a story... somewhere.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins) - My Review
Shadowbloom (Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan) - My Review
The Castle in the Attic (Elizabeth Winthrop) - My Review

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Seven Moments In Storytelling That Really Matter (Christian Blake)

The Seven Moments In Storytelling That Really Matter
Christian Blake
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Writing
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: What makes a person sit in a theater for ninety minutes, or sit with a book for nine hours? Why are some tales universally embraced while others are instantly forgotten? After lengthy analysis of popular movies, author Christian Blake discovered seven recurring elements in every successful story.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I give Blake credit for attempting a different approach. Rather than focusing on the three-act structure or other staples of writing books, he instead offers seven elements that occur in well-crafted stories on screen or page. Unfortunately, I found these points too vague to guarantee interest; each one can be just as easily abused as properly used, and they still don't answer the age-old questions of how to construct a good story arc. To illustrate his "moments," Blake includes a short story of his own crafting - a story so cliche and unresolved that it distracts rather than elucidates. It might've been more interesting had he pointed out his seven moments in existing popular works; many classics are in public domain, so rights shouldn't have been an issue.
On the plus side, Blake offers a different way to view plotting and story structure. On the minus side, he fails to demonstrate his "seven moments" effectively. His approach might help some struggling writers, but, sadly, not this one.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Write as Fast as You Think (Angie Dixon) - My Review
Slow Your Prose (James W. Lewis) - My Review
Words to Write By (Elaine L. Orr) - My Review

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Perspective Drawing Handbook (Joseph D'Amelio)

Perspective Drawing Handbook
Joseph D'Amelio
Dover Publications
Nonfiction, Art
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Perspective is the art of observing and representing three-dimensional depth on a two-dimensional surface. Get it right, and a drawing leaps to life. Get it wrong, and it causes no end of frustration. The author uses many illustrations to describe the theory and practice of perspective, from the basic train-track demonstration through advanced subjects. He also includes notes on understanding shade and shadow.

REVIEW: This subject is one of my personal stumbling blocks when it comes to developing my art. D'Amelio's classic book explains the subject matter in a way that even artistic simpletons like myself can understand. I'd be lying if I said I understood it all in one read-through; like most artistic skills, only hard practice and observation can fully drive the lessons home. But, with the help of this guidebook, it's easier to see what one should be doing, and it helps one understand the whys of artistic perspective.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Constructive Anatomy (George B. Bridgman) - My Review
Imaginative Realism (James Gurney) - My Review
How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (Stan Lee and John Buscema) - My Review

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Takers (R. W. Ridley)

The Takers
(The Oz Chronicles, Book 1)
R. W. Ridley
BookSurge Publishing
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Horror
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Thirteen-year-old Oz Griffin lost a week of his life to a high fever... and may well have lost his mind. When he wakes up, his parents are gone, as is everyone in the neighborhood - and maybe the world. With his dog Kimball and the neighbor's newborn boy, Nate, he sets out in search of answers and survivors, not necessarily in that order. The world has been overrun by monsters called Takers, which seem to have escaped from a mentally-challenged classmate's comic books. Unfortunately, their creator, Stevie, committed suicide after years of merciless teasing by boys like Oz. Now, this unlikely and unprepared warrior may be the world's last chance at salvation... assuming he can survive Stevie's vengeful monsters.

REVIEW: Starting fast, The Takers is, by turns, both creepy and surreal. The devastating effects of bullying find physical manifestation in the Takers and other beasts Oz and his companions must face; Stevie, it turns out, wasn't the only special-needs child to birth hordes of monsters from his suffering. Ridley edges close to browbeating on this point, though I personally felt more annoyed at how the two female characters seemed largely helpless compared to the boys. On the whole, it moved quickly, though the plot tends to handwave logic away by having the quest dictated by the late Stevie's comic book; characters often do (or don't do) things simply because "that's how it is" or "it just feels right." It also ends on a cliffhanger, leading into the second Oz book. Ridley also lost some credibility with poor research; he has horses "slow down" to a gallop, and crossbows firing arrows instead of bolts or quarrels. (Minor things, true, but such little mistakes made me more critical of the overall story arc.) Overall, while I won't be following Oz Griffin's future adventures, I can definitely say that I've read worse stories.

You Might Also Enjoy:
I Was a Teenage Fairy (Francesca Lia Block) - My Review
The Tiger Rising (Kate DiCamillo) - My Review
Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne) - My Review

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Big Book of Realistic Drawing Secrets (Carrie Stuart Parks and Rick Parks)

The Big Book of Realistic Drawing Secrets
Carrie Stuart Parks and Rick Parks
North Light Books
Nonfiction, Art
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Many people want to draw well, but can't figure out the secret that transforms wonky lines and scribbles into a true-to-life picture. They say practice makes perfect, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. The authors, professional artists, explain and demonstrate the simple lessons and techniques that can teach anyone how to draw realistically.

REVIEW: With clear instructions and a little humor, this book offers basic drawing techniques with numerous demonstrations and step-by-step projects. Of course, no book can replace the practice it takes to truly master a skill like art, but practicing without understanding what goes into a realistic drawing, or what's gone wrong, only gets one so far. Some of the demonstrations got repetitive, and I believe Parks did a disservice by undervaluing "traditional" art subjects like perspective and anatomy, which help an artist understand what they're seeing; endless copies of pictures alone might produce a great artist, or it might produce a human photocopier. Despite that flaw, however, The Big Book of Realistic Drawing Secrets holds plenty of information for would-be artists, and practicing its methods should produce encouraging results.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Fundamentals of Drawing Landscapes (Barrington Barber) - My Review
Drawing the Head and Figure (Jack Hamm) - My Review
Figure Drawing Without a Model (Ron Tiner) - My Review

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Word Watch: A Writer's Guide to the Slippery, Sneaky and Otherwise Tricky(Patricia McLinn)

Word Watch: A Writer's Guide to the Slippery, Sneaky and Otherwise Tricky
Patricia McLinn
Patricia McLinn, publisher
Nonfiction, Writing
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: English is, as the poets say, a tricky tongue, full of words that confound even native speakers. If you think it's easy deciding whether to use "fewer" or "lesser," or think "inflammable" is the opposite of "flammable," you have another think coming.
What's that? It's "thing," not "think," you say? Not according to the dictionary, or the experts. McLinn explores the ins and outs of words that trip up even seasoned novelists.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Compiled from a monthly column published in writers' periodicals, Word Watch wittily explores oft-misused and outright abused words. Even if you think you know the English language pretty well, you're sure to learn something new here, unless you work for Webster... and even the dictionaries, apparently, argue over proper usage and terminology. Once in a while, McLinn gets a little too clever for her own good, but overall she does an admirable job sorting out the tangled mess that is modern English. A quick, informative, and fun read for writers and readers alike!

You Might Also Enjoy:
Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words (Josefa Heifetz Byrne) - My Review
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne and Davie King) - My Review
Who's... (oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This, Anyway? (C. Edward Good) - My Review