Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January Site Update

The previous 11 reviews have been archived and cross-linked on the main site.


On an unrelated note, I recently acquired new web-editing software, WebPlus Pro, during an online "clearance" event. As I'm closing in on 1000 reviews, I'm considering another site overhaul. However, transferring and updating over 900 pages is not a task to be undertaken lightly... I'm still debating it, in other words. If it does happen, it'll likely mean a long lull between site updates. It won't affect this blog, however.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing (Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King)

The Arvon Book of Crime and Thriller Writing
Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King
Nonfiction, Writing
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Smoking guns, red herrings, ice-cold bodies and white-hot suspects... few things engage us like a tale of crime and fear. From the cerebral conundrums of the classic whodunit to the pulse-pounding page turner of a modern thriller, the mystery/crime genre offers something for everyone to enjoy. But these stories don't write themselves... and every name on the New York Times bestseller list was once an unpublished amateur. Authors Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King, along with several guest contributors, offer advice for those just starting out in the crime-writing field.

REVIEW: No, I don't read many mysteries. I haven't even read a book by either author of this guide. However, as a trying-to-be author, I figured it couldn't hurt to look beyond my usual genre... and, despite certain genre-specific trappings, a story is, ultimately, a story, whether it's set in a fantasy kingdom or the mean streets of a modern city. Spring and King offer plenty of excellent advice based on their own writing experiences, covering everything from idea generation and research to the final polish, even touching on post-publication promotion. Though their approaches to writing may differ, I learned plenty from both of them. The guest contributions, forming the middle of the book, varied somewhat in quality and helpfulness - this section could've used a little trimming. Otherwise, it's an informative, inspiring guidebook, regardless of one's preferred writing genre.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Art of War for Writers (James Scott Bell) - My Review
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass) - My Review

Friday, January 18, 2013

Write a novel in 7 days or less: the shortcut to writing fast and good (Mark Quadmire)

Write your novel in 7 days or less: the shortcut to writing fast and good
Mark Quadmire
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Self-Help/Writing
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Stop wasting your time dreaming about writing a novel, and do it! Learn how to cut the clutter and excuses, focus your energy, and achieve your dreams - in writing and in life.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Yet another freebie download, its title immediately put me in mind of those "write a book in an hour and rake in the cash" titles I've seen too many of lately. The author directs his advice at novelists, harnessing the same "just do it"/"don't be afraid to fail in order to thrive" mentality with a far less dishonest and greedy energy. Indeed, he soon turns this writing book into a life-improvement book, which is why I classified it as a Self-Help title as well as a Writing guide. A huge chunk of the (often repetitive) text is devoted to simplifying your life, cutting out wasted time and mental clutter, and transforming yourself into one of those blissful success stories everyone loves reading about without managing to actually become one themselves. By the end, his writing advice gets left in the dust as Quadmire hastens to extol the virtues of goal-setting collages and Warren Buffett-style investment income streams. This change of premise mid-stream - plus a host of minor yet irritating editing errors, which made the whole thing feel like an afterthought effort - nearly cost it another half-mark in the ratings, but in the end I just couldn't be that upset with it, especially as it was free when I grabbed it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Mental FOCUS Training Secrets (Nathan Cadbury) - My Review
How I Published My Book and Sold Thousands of Copies (Kenneth Tingle) - My Review

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Breaking Deluce (Chad Campbell)

Breaking Deluce
Chad Campbell
Conceptualize Publishing
Fiction, YA Fantasy
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: High-schooler Mona Deluce wanted nothing more out of life than a perfect SAT score to get her into a good college. Then, two new boys show up at school, handsome Damon and brutish giant Jason... and some very strange things start to happen. Suddenly, she's being hunted by creatures that shouldn't exist and defended by strangers with powers she can't understand. Her dreams of a normal life are about to go up in smoke - assuming she survives.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I wanted to like this one. The description on Amazon made it sound intriguing. Unfortunately, it failed to mention that this was not a complete short story, but simply an introduction to a longer work. As such, it wastes page count laboriously setting up Mona's normal life... curiously, without making her into a character I could sympathize with. She comes across as a cardboard cutout, an object that everyone wants to either kill or defend, for reasons that are never explained (at least, not here - the Amazon description remains the only clue on that front.) The villain is a talky, nigh-invulnerable stereotype, prone to standing around and boasting about how he's going to destroy the good guys rather than simply carrying out his threats. The heroes - the boys, at least, as Mona hardly qualifies as a heroine save for one inexplicable moment towards the end - take repeated deadly beatings without actually dying, further reducing the tension and my interest. I hit the end with a sense of relief that the tale was finally over, and without a shred of concern over what comes next for Mona.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Stoneheart (Charlie Fletcher) - My Review
The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) - My Review
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Brandon Sanderson) - My Review

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Nine Lives of Algernon (John Jenkins Espey)

The Nine Lives of Algernon
John Jenkins Espey
Capra Press
Fiction, Humor
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: When Algernon came into this world, he was given a name and nine lives, to do with as he wished. Determined that he will be a famous cat someday, Algie dedicates each life to a new, ambitious endeavor.

REVIEW: A quick read, this book tries too hard to be clever. Algernon's world inexplicably bleeds over into human interests - at one point he studies French and converses freely with scientists, while remaining oddly ignorant about the world as a whole - which stretches the premise a little too thin. Still, it has a few amusing moments, and it's fairly benign.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Comet's Nine Lives (Jan Brett) - My Review
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (T. S. Eliot) - My Review
The Devious Book for Cats (Fluffy and Bonkers) - My Review

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Jesus Garcia Moreno
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Writing
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Learn easy tips and tricks to research, outline, write, and publish a nonfiction book.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I wasn't expecting a great, in-depth read when I downloaded this title. In that, I can definitely say I was not disappointed. Stopping just short of condoning plagiarism, Moreno explains how to slap together an eBook in no time flat. It has some translation issues (plainly visible in the title), and a few of the screenshots are difficult to read on a greyscale Kindle screen. However, it does do precisely what it states in the title: offer a quick and dirty method for creating, publishing, and publicizing a book. That honesty alone spared it a flat Bad rating.
If you want to join the many authors flooding the Kindle marketplace with half-baked nonfiction titles, this is right up your alley. For the rest of us, it's a quick, mildly depressing peek at how those titles get churned out at such a prodigious rate.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Secrets to Writing Your First eBook and Getting It Online (Haphiza Baboolal) - My Review
Write As Fast As You Think (Angie Dixon) - My Review
Write a F*$%ing Book Already - The Insider's Guide To Increasing Your Sales & Improving Your Career With A Book (Jim Kukral) - My Review

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Public Domain Books
Fiction, General Fiction
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: In the Roaring Twenties, a young man heads East to pursue his New York City-sized dreams. Nick finds himself neighbor to one Mr. Gatsby, an enigmatic tycoon about whom countless rumors swirl. Nobody seems to know where he came from or how he acquired his prodigious wealth, though his castle-like estate acts as host to weekly all-night parties for the privileged. Though a man of modest wealth and few connections, Nick soon becomes part of Gatsby's social circles as the man takes a personal interest in him. As Nick is drawn deeper into the world of the moneyed elite, he finds it harder to play along with their twisted, sometimes cruel social games... especially when Gatsby recruits him for a particularly dangerous affair.

REVIEW: This is another classic I've been meaning to read for years. It gets off to a rough start, populating itself with a host of unlikable characters doing unlikable things while throwing conspicuous amounts of money and alcohol at their own unhappy, hollow lives. Granted, half the point of the book is examining the tarnish beneath the gilded lives of the wealthy, but that doesn't make spending so much time lingering at their parties and being privy to their gossip particularly enjoyable. The narrator himself is fairly transparent, acting mostly as a set of eyes and ears to convey the adventures of others to the reader, though the little I saw of his personality hardly made me like him, either. Still, Fitzgerald captures an era in his words, down to the offhand racism and dismissal of the lesser classes as little more than objects, and his prose proves far more readable than many classics I've slogged through. Once the story actually finds a purpose and a plot, it moves decently, though the build-up to the climax feels forced. Overall, I found it a reasonably satisfying read, and I can see why this book is considered a classic.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) - My Review
The House of Silk (Anthony Horowitz) - My Review

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dragons Composed (James Ferris, editor)

Dragons Composed
James Ferris, editor
Kerlak Enterprises, Inc.
Fiction, Anthology/Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: From feudal Japan to modern America, from our own past to alternate worlds, the mighty dragon thrives in this collection of tales.

REVIEW: This was offered as a free-for-Kindle download, so - despite my reservations about anthologies - I figured it was worth a try. On the plus side, every single story in this volume actually featured dragons: not metaphoric dragons, not misidentified pseudodragons, but real dragons. They also, with two exceptions, were self-contained tales, not part of other universes or series. On the minus side, the quality and interest level varied significantly. While few outright annoyed me, almost none lingered in my mind in any way, and several simply bored me - telling me about the tale rather than engaging me as it unfolded, or dawdling to foregone conclusions, or simply failing to intrigue me.
Since I'm trying to write short stories of my own, it made for interesting study, but to be perfectly honest I would've much rather had an interesting read.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Dragon Book (Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, editors) - My Review
Dragons: The Greatest Stories (Martin H. Greenberg, editor) - My Review
Here, There be Dragons (Jane Yolen) - My Review

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Survival Kit: Build a Perfect Bug Out Bag For Any Disaster (Sasha Fields)

Survival Kit: Build a Perfect Bug Out Bag For Any Disaster
Sasha Fields
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, General Nonfiction
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Be it a natural disaster or a man-made catastrophe, national or local, sometimes the best shot at survival is to cut and run for safety. Having a bug out bag on-hand, stocked for a few days' worth of rough conditions and travel, might mean the difference between life and death. The author offers tips for building your own kit.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A quick-reading eBook, this book touches on the basics of what one needs to survive, from the obvious (food and shelter) to the less-obvious needs (proof of identity and insurance, to get your life back when the smoke clears.) Such kits may be a staple of the average survival extremist, but Fields points out that being forced to flee isn't quite so far-fetched as many of us would like to believe: a simple wildfire or severe storm could render any place uninhabitable with little warning, cutting off traditional means of support (electricity, clean water) and escape (roadways and gas supplies.) Out here in earthquake country, the official line advocates "three days, three ways" to survive waiting for help. Packing said material for transport in a bug out bag, and having an idea of where to go and what to do if one's house is no longer safe, doesn't seem so outlandish. Some of the advice seems vague, and not all of it may be practical for all people (such as taking a self-defense course to fend off less-prepared neighbors), but it's enough to get one thinking about what one would do, and what one should take, if faced with a forced evacuation.
(I admit that I grabbed this mostly for story ideas; if nothing else, the next time I turn a character's life upside-down, they'll stand a better chance of surviving, assuming they packed appropriately.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Survival 101: The Essential Guide to Saving Your Own Life in a Disaster (Marcus Duke) - My Review
Field Guide to the Apocalypse (Meghann Marco) - My Review
Guts (Gary Paulsen) - My Review

Writers Write (William Meikle)

Writers Write
William Meikle
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Writing
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Many people dream about writing. Some even talk about writing. Surprisingly few actually write... leaving those dreams to wither and die rather than make the attempt. Published author William Meikle offers advice for those who want to take thier dreams and turn them into reality, starting with the first rule of success: writers write.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: With blunt delivery and occasional sidetracks into humor, Meikle delivers similar advice to most other writing guides I own: a story cannot be published until someone actually sits down and writes it... and nobody is going to write your stories but you. A basic start-to-finish workflow follows, a rough sketch of how to transform an idea into a finished, marketable story. He also offers a brief look at worn-out tropes to avoid (unless you think you're able to put a fresh face on an old chestnut; as they say, there's nothing new under the sun, and some authors still do very well repackaging the same basic ideas.) Much of this advice has been covered in other writing guides, but Meikle presents it competently.

You Might Also Enjoy:
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (Orson Scott Card) - My Review
You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) (Jeff Goins) - My Review
Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy (Crawford Killian) - My Review