Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Site Update

I've archived the previous 8 reviews on the main site.


(I also decided to delay my site overhaul, at least until I'm comfortable enough with the new web-design software to tackle the transfer. It may take a while...)

Monday, February 25, 2013

So You Want an Author Platform? (Louise Wise)

So You Want an Author Platform?
Louise Wise
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Writing
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: These days, it seems like everyone has a novel in the works. How can you make your name stand out in the crowd? The author explains how to use social media to create an author platform, generating reader interest and sales.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Wise offers advice on both writing and promotion, with an emphasis on presenting a polished, professional face to the public. Unfortunately, this eBook has many formatting errors, from excessive usage of italics and all-cap "yelling" to misplaced punctuation and misused/misspelled words. Wise's attempts at humor sometimes fall flat, as well. The advice itself seems reasonably sound, if occasionally rushed.

You Might Also Enjoy:
You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) (Jeff Goins) - My Review
The Digital Writer's Guide to Twitter (Tracy O'Connor and The Digital Writer) - My Review
Profit from the eBook Revolution (Bob Perry) - My Review

Bradamant's Quest (Ruth Berman)

Bradamant's Quest
Ruth Berman
FTL Publications
Fiction, Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: King Charlemagne's victories claimed many lives, including those of his greatest and most loyal knights. In addition to the loss of the legendary Roland, Bradamant's husband Roger fell defending France from its enemies. Though there is much to do to rebuild her uncle Charlemagne's ravaged realm, the widow finds herself adrift... until a fateful encounter with Oberon, king of the fairies.
While the king's victories may have been blessed by God, fairy gifts - from books of magic to her brother's beloved hippogriff and even Roland's sword - were instrumental in winning the day. But the time of old magic is passing, as Christianity and mortals ascend. The fairies will soon withdraw from this world forever, and they do not mean to leave their relics behind. Bradamant accepts Oberon's quest, to gather the many magical artifacts of her kinsmen and return them to the fairy king. But the relics lie scattered across the whole of Charlemagne's empire, and some of their current bearers will do anything to keep their prizes.

REVIEW: Based on the classical legends built around the real historical figure of King Charlemagne, this meticulously-researched book brings the reader into a myth cycle not often revisited in modern literature, especially not in the English language. I admit that I have never read The Song of Roland, Orlando Furioso, or other related works. (But, then, I've also never read the original King Arthur cycle.) Therefore, I felt a little lost, feeling that I ought to have known more about the characters, the histories, and the politics of the world Bradamant inhabits. Berman includes a lengthy appendix, explaining the historical and legendary roots she explored, but by then my eyes were already glazed. While the details help bring early medieval Europe to life, they also bog down the narrative, which didn't help when I was already feeling as though I were treading water in a murky stream. The story itself grows repetitive; there are just so many items Bradamant must recover, in so many corners of the realm, all of which are associated with so many memories for the character... it all bled together at some point. While technically well written, I simply felt too alienated by my ignorance of the Charlemagne myth cycle to truly enjoy it. Students of classical myth and early French history should like Berman's tale.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Lost Years of Merlin (T. A. Barron) - My Review
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (Patricia McKillip) - My Review
The Book of Fabulous Beasts (Joseph Nigg) - My Review

Monday, February 18, 2013

Schaum's Quick Guide to Writing Great Short Stories (Margaret Lucke)

Schaum's Quick Guide to Writing Great Short Stories
Margaret Lucke
Nonfiction, Writing
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Short stories can be a great way to explore ideas, experiment with styles, or play with a theme in a way that longer works don't allow. But the very format that allows for such freedom also imposes certain restrictions: the author has to deliver information and a story in limited space, without the luxury of sidetracks or subplots. Every word must count. Learn how to craft your own short fiction with this guidebook.

REVIEW: Much of the advice in this book applies to all writing, be it flash fiction or multivolume series. It also, as promised, focuses on the unique problems and opportunities of short stories. Lucke offers examples (some more useful than others) and exercises (likewise) to emphasize the lessons. Appendices address what to do with a finished story, how to obtain useful feedback, and proper formatting for submissions. There is also a list of suggested reading for those wishing to study short fiction masterworks. I found it helpful on the whole.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy (Crawford Kilian) - My Review
Writers Write (William Meikle) - My Review
Your First Novel (Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb) - My Review

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Broken: A Mystical Trip Through Oz (Jim Scarborough)

Broken: A Mystical Trip Through Oz
Jim Scarborough
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, YA Fantasy
* (Terrible)

DESCRIPTION: After a tornado devastated their Kansas town, Uncle Henry and Auntie Em were grateful that their home, at least, survived the devastation... but young Dorothy suffered a bad blow to the head. She woke up babbling about scarecrows and lions and witches. When they take her to a specialist for treatment, he gives her pills to help her relax - but instead, they send her back to the land of Oz, along with her faithful stuffed bunny Mr. Fluffles. She hopes to visit her friends again, but something has gone horribly wrong. The Scarecrow's missing, the Emerald City is under siege, and the Wicked Witch of the East - flattened by Dorothy's house in her first visit - has returned for vengeance.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Sometimes, I think it's just too easy to self-publish these days. This story reads like a first draft of light fanfic, with threadbare characters and a weak storyline hampered by rampant spellings errors and outright misused words. (At one point, Dorothy and her friends spend an evening "recanting" tales of their adventures. Either the author meant "recounting," or he cut out a rather interesting chunk of story.) Most, if not all, of these issues could have - and should have - been ironed out with redrafting, beta-reading, or just plain running the thing through a spellchecker. The true killer, however, is the ending, a bait-and-switch that might have tempted me to toss the book against the wall had it not been on my beloved Kindle. Worse, there is a sequel available, implying a likely series in the making.
I'm sure Scarborough enjoyed writing this, and his friends and family adored reading it. For us hapless strangers, unfortunately, the charm is lost.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum) - My Review
Librarian: Little Boy Lost (Eric Hobbs) - My Review
The Dragon Box (Katie W. Stewart) - My Review

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Toughest Mile (William Meikle)

The Toughest Mile
(The William Meikle Short Story Collection)
William Meikle
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Stolen from his green home, Garn became a thrall in the desert realm of the Witch Queen. By day he fights in the Pits for the amusement of the masses, while by night the queen demands his personal attention. After his hundredth kill, he finally has a chance to earn his freedom - if he can survive a ten-mile gauntlet and the Witch Queen's pet killers.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I've had mixed luck with short stories. I was pleasantly surprised here. After a bit of a slow start, the tale picks up nicely, building to a tense climax. After years of dreaming and longing, Garn finds the road to freedom far more difficult than he had anticipated... even discounting the assassins on his heels. It made for a fast and enjoyable read, which is just what I was looking for when I downloaded it.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Sword Dancer (Jennifer Roberson) - My Review
Game Over - Extended Edition (Todd Thorne) - My Review

Lord of the Forest (Jackie Morris and Caroline Pitcher)

Lord of the Forest
Jackie Morris and Caroline Pitcher
Frances Lincoln Books
Fiction, YA Picture Book
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: In the jungles of India, a tiger grows from blind cub to proud hunter. Yet always the words of his mother puzzle him - she told him to listen for the silence, for then he shall know that the Lord of the Forest is near. Who is the Lord of the Forest... and what will happen should the tiger ever meet him?

REVIEW: We had another lull at work; this one was at the top of one of the bins. Morris's beautiful watercolor illustrations augment a poetic tale by Caroline Pitcher. A great little read for tiger lovers of all ages.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Heart of a Tiger (Marsha Diane Arnold) - My Review
Star Cats: A Feline Zodiac (Lesley Ann Ivory) - My Review
Snow Leopard (Jackie Morris) - My Review

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dragons Love Tacos (Adam Rubin)

Dragons Love Tacos
Adam Rubin
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: If you want to make friends with dragons, your best bet is tacos... but be careful, because as much as dragons love tacos, they can't stand spicy salsa.

REVIEW: We had some down time at work, so I gave this a read. Light-hearted and amusing, it was a pleasant way to spend my break. The pictures by Daniel Salmieri are simple and whimsical, fitting the tone of the story. (It also serves as a cautionary tale about following directions...)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Children Make Terrible Pets (Peter Brown) - My Review
The Knight and the Dragon (Tomie DePaola) - My Review
Never Let Your Cat Make Lunch For You (Lee Harris) - My Review

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Curse of the Masking-Tape Mummy (Scott Meyer)

The Curse of the Masking-Tape Mummy
(A Basic Instructions collection, Volume 3)
Scott Meyer
Don't Eat Any Bugs Productions
Fiction, Comics
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: In the third collection of Basic Instructions comics, Scott Meyer explains how to plan the perfect crime, tell a riveting story, prepare for the apocalypse, and more. This volume also includes an exclusive Rocket Hat adventure by guest artist Michael Mayne, and excerpts from the failed children's picture-book adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by the Mullet-Haired Boss.

REVIEW: Amusing, insightful, and disturbingly reminiscent of situations I've been in, Basic Instructions remains one of my favorite comic strips. As for the bonus material, Rocket Hat's adventure was fun, but I admit that the FaLiLV jokes were lost on me, as it wasn't my kind of movie. (Or book.) Very enjoyable overall, offering some good laughs when I needed them.

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Frequently Asked Questions: An Unshelved Collection (Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum) - My Review
Thank God for Culture Clash: A Candorville Collection (Darrin Bell) - My Review
Pearls Before Swine: BLTs Taste So Darn Good... (Stephan Pastis) - My Review