Saturday, March 30, 2013

March Site Update

The previous six book reviews are now archived and cross-linked on the main site.

I also rotated the Random Recommendations.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Extreme Science (Phil Clarke)

Extreme Science
Phil Clarke
Chartwell Books
Nonfiction, YA? History/Media Reference/Science
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Reanimated corpses, two-headed dogs, electronic brain control... they sound like the stuff of science fiction, but all have happened in the laboratories of real-life scientists, pioneers pushing the boundaries of their age's knowledge by any means necessary. Journey to the very edge of science, where the line between fact and fiction, triumph and tragedy, even genius and madness, is scalpel-thin.

REVIEW: This book attempts to encapsulate a vast subject - scientists at the very edge of knowledge, often ahead of their times - in accessible terms. It also delves into theorists, war atrocities, serial killers, and Hollywood treatments of extreme science subjects. That's an awful lot of ground to cover... too much to do more than merely touch on any given topic. It also can't help but feel random, insofar as topics and historical figures covered. The Hollywood section in particular is haphazard, picking and choosing among feature films (and omitting some landmark sci-fi in the process.) I would've preferred spending more time with the real scientists and experiments. As a general introduction to extreme science, though, this book isn't bad.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Strange and Unexplained Phenomena (Jerome Clarke and Nancy Pear) - My Review
Reader's Digest Facts and Fallacies (Reader's Digest) - My Review
The World's Most Incredible Stories: The Best of the Fortean Times (Adam Sisman, editor) - My Review

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Flower of Scotland 3 (William Meikle)

Flower of Scotland 3
William Meikle
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A drunken PI with a talent for dealing with the unusual... a post-apocalyptic town's dark bargain for survival... an archaeological discovery that will reshape the world... This collection offers several tales by author William Meikle.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: It's nice to read short stories that don't forget to stay short. Meikle's tales vary between darkly humorous and downright disturbing. They read fast, and the title was free when I downloaded it. All in all, it made for an enjoyable read.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Strange Happenings (Avi) - My Review
The Anything Box (Zenna Henderson) - My Review
A Pocket Full of Spells (Ash Stirling) - My Review

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pride's Run (Cat Kalen)

Pride's Run
(The Wolf's Pride series, Book 1)
Cat Kalen
Cat Kalen, publisher
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Born a runt, Pride was the sole survivor of her litter, too stubborn and scrappy to give in... traits that make her one of the top trackers for her master. A werewolf enslaved by a Californian drug lord, Pride learned early on to trust nobody but family, and count on nothing but her own wits and grit to keep her alive. While the other wolves around her are broken and, eventually, killed, she holds onto a fierce independence, determined to escape someday - though even freedom would likely mean death at the hands of paranormal agents trained to detect and exterminate her kind. The one thing she could count on, though, was that at least she'd never be bred: no pack would perpetuate a genetic mistake like a runt, and no master would be fool enough to want pups from her.
At least, that is what she hoped.
When she learns she is to be given to an alpha named Stone, a former playmate turned cruel bully after he was broken by the master, Pride determines to flee. She'd rather die than bring more pups into a life of slavery. When the master sends her on a mission six days before the full moon - when her wolf is at its strongest and least tractable, and when she's due to be sent to Stone's cell - she gets her chance at freedom. But Pride knows little about the ways of the wild, and less about her unexpected companion, an escaped alpha male named Logan. Who can she trust? Where can she turn? And can she ever live up to her vow to free her packmates from the master?

REVIEW: This starts on a promising note, establishing a world of werewolves torn between their gentler pack instincts and their primal bloodlust. As a reader, I could sympathize with their plight, even as I understood why humans consider them a threat worthy of being hunted: a werewolf's craving for human blood cannot always be restrained, as their wolf-selves grow stronger with the call of the moon. Pride starts off as a bright, if emotionally and physically abused, heroine, clinging to her independence in the face of overwhelming odds. Unfortunately, at some point, she passes from being bright to being obtuse; other characters even remark that she's too smart to be so dumb about some things. Despite being a runt, pretty much every male who sets eyes on Pride instantly desires her... and here, the story really derails, as Pride proves impossibly dim-witted about alphas lusting over her. Even Logan decides she's an ideal mate on first sight: he has to earn her trust, but not once does Pride have to do the same, from Logan or Stone or anyone. Who is she, to command such loyalty? And how did she reach the age of seventeen without figuring out that she, evidently, is the center of the werewolf universe?
The writing itself is good - far better than many self-published titles I've downloaded - and it kept me reading. In the end, though, too much of the story focuses not on escaping danger or avenging years of slavery but the long, tedious seduction of an oblivious she-wolf.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Aftershock (S. A. Archer and S. Ravynheart) - My Review
Finder (Emma Bull) - My Review
Bedlam's Bard (Mercedes Lackey with Ellen Guon) - My Review

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

The Hound of the Baskervilles
(A Sherlock Holmes novel, Book 3)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Mystery
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: The desolate moors of Devonshire are full of secrets: deadly mires, ancient tors, abandoned mines... and black curses. Long ago, the baronet Hugo Baskerville's evil actions brought a curse upon the line that persists to this day, a curse embodied in a demonic hound. The latest victim, Sir Charles Baskerville, died in a state of utter terror. Not a mark was left on the body... but a giant paw print nearby told of the hound's return.
Sherlock Holmes is a rational man, giving little credence to legends and superstitions. When a friend of the late Sir Charles comes to call, he and Watson find themselves drawn into the dark tale of the Baskerville curse. The last known heir to the ill-omened line is on his way to claim the family title and estate... and, already, there are signs of danger. Sent to Baskerville Hall on Holmes's behalf, Watson struggles to untangle a knot of suspects and peculiarities, even as he hears strange cries from the wild moorlands - cries like the voice of a demonic hound...

REVIEW: A classic tale of suspense, it holds up fairly well. For once, Watson manages to hold his own in the investigation, even earning some rare praise from the great detective for his efforts. Doyle again sketches several memorable characters, tying them to a mystery with many twists and turns and false trails that almost best Sherlock Holmes himself. Even having seen more than one adaptation of this story, I found it a gripping read.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
The Ruby in the Smoke (Philip Pullman) - My Review

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Elements of Style (William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White)

The Elements of Style
William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Allyn and Bacon
Nonfiction, Writing
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: In writing, clarity is everything. But how can one achieve it? This handbook explains the basic rules of English writing, with notes on composition and style.

REVIEW: A classic in writing circles, be it fiction or nonfiction, this handy volume has withstood the test of time. The language evolves, and fashions come and go, but the basic rules of clear writing remain the same. The simple layout is easy to digest, though it would take multiple readings to truly absorb all of the advice. In a world all too ready to add apostrophes to plural nouns and invent catchy buzzwords at the drop of a proverbial hat, reminders like this volume become all the more vital.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Who's... (oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This, Anyway? (C. Edward Good) - My Review
Be Your Own Editor: A Writer's Guide to Perfect Prose (Sigrid Macdonald) - My Review
Word Watch: A Writer's Guide to the Slippery, Sneaky and Otherwise Tricky (Patricia McLinn) - My Review

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ruby Blue (Julie Cassar)

Ruby Blue
(The Ruby Blue series, Book 1)
Julie Cassar
Fiction, YA Fantasy
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: For the most part, seventeen-year-old Ruby seems like a typical modern American teen. She lives in a small Michigan town with her mother, father, and brat of a brother. She oversleeps and loves ice cream. She has a best-friend-since-forever (who recently came out of the closet) and a crush on the hottest boy in town. And - oh, yeah - she can see fairies.
Anya and Brennan have been Ruby's friends since she was a little girl. They even take on human form sometimes, so her family doesn't think she's crazy, talking to "imaginary" playmates. Ruby knows they have their secrets, but she's never considered fairies dangerous, until some strange things start happening in Lake City. A string of unexplained fires, odd sightings in nearby lakes... Ruby thought the most exciting thing that would happen this summer was finally being asked out by Nick. She's about to learn more about fairy secrets than she could imagine in her wildest dreams - or nightmares.

REVIEW: Why do I keep downloading freebie titles based on a few good reviews? The warning flags come fast and early: the entire first chapter consists of Ruby explaining herself and her mostly-mundane teenage existence, only bothering to mention the fairies at the very end. Even after finally revealing the hook, Cassar seems bound and determined to downplay it. Instead, she treats me to more pointless teenage angst and gabby meanderings through Ruby's brain, which resembles the brain of someone a few years younger than her stated age, to be perfectly honest. More than half of the book concerns itself with matters of dating, shoe collecting, sibling rivalry, and nail polish, amid puppy love anxiety and other issues that, while all-consuming to a young teenager, fail to interest me as a reader. The fairy plot almost feels like an afterthought, until it all gels (or rather congeals) at the very end, for a finale that would've been more tense had Ruby spent more time dealing with the rogue escapee from Fey instead of painting her nails and getting all butterfly-bellied from Nick's attention. But, then, the most trouble the antagonist can manage is minor property damage and the occasional inconveniencing of the heroes... which, considering the alluded potential of its powers, seems disappointingly anticlimactic.
Ultimately, it reads like a Fluffy Bunny fantasy, the kind of bubble-wrapped story usually aimed at younger audiences, awkwardly dressed up for a high school prom. On the plus side, it's reasonably well formatted, and the whole thing reads quickly. I admit that I've read far worse... though that doesn't stop me from wishing this title had been better.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan) - My Review
Eccentric Circles (Rebecca Lickiss) - My Review
Fablehaven (Brandon Mull) - My Review