Thursday, May 30, 2013

May Site Update

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


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Teller (Chris Howard)

(The Rootworld Cycle, Book 1)
Chris Howard
Lykeion Books
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Andin Teller used to love his mother's stories, so much so that they seemed to come alive around him. Tales woven around a woman fleeing a power-mad mother, taking her son across whole worlds to escape the woman's fearless, dark-winged hunters... but they were just stories, and as the years passed, Andin's mother Emily told them less and less often. He's almost forgotten how her words seemed to change reality. Almost.
When strange attackers invade their New Age gift shop and kidnap Emily, Andin finds pieces of his mother's fantastic tales coming true around him. With the help of two steadfast friends - resourceful Itoshi and half-crazy Taryn - he must confront enemies from beyond this world... and the dangerous powers lurking in his own unique blood.

REVIEW: This book isn't easy to rate. On one hand, it offers a great idea: Tellers, people gifted with the ability to change the world with their words or art or sheer belief. On the other, it ventures into downright surreal territory, with occasional bursts of impenetrable prose. The story itself doesn't help. Andin's mother takes after too many parents in fantasy tales, withholding vital information from her offspring until it's too late to do them any good. He's left to fumble through learning his Teller gifts on his own, endangering numerous lives in the process. He has a fairly competent crew with Itoshi and Taryn, though the latter's knocked out of commission halfway through and doesn't actually do much until the very end of the book. Andin's grandmother is a monster in every sense of the word, as are most of his enemies. Indeed, they all seem to be part of an immortal race intent on inheriting the Earth once humans are done with it, one way or the other. (I have to wonder just what kind of planet they think we'll leave behind; we're not exactly a light-footed species...) Round about this time, the book veers into Deep Waters, pulling apart the tangled strands of reality and story and consciousness while twisting the very nature of the universe as Andin and his rivals rewrite their realities in a power struggle that would seem to be impossible to resolve. That's an awful lot of weight to drop onto a story about a boy rescuing his mom and discovering his gifts, enough to smother this reader. By the end, I could barely keep track of the convoluted plot, with so many enemies and rivalries and interlocking layers of power and reality, all ultimately tied back to some other world that may or may not even be real... Ergh. I confess I gave up trying to make sense of it all; a sequence where Andin's memory is erased (but the reader's isn't) nearly broke me. It ended in a way that may or may not have resolved some of the problems facing Andin, though the fact that it's Book 1 of a "cycle" indicates that trouble (and likely more lyrical meanderings into the nature of reality) will no doubt find him again.
So, what am I left with, in the end? The writing itself is decent enough, when it's not too tangled up in Profound Ideas and bizarre knots. The characters aren't bad, even if they aren't always smart. I liked some of the ideas Howard presented, as well, even if others trickled over the line between fascination and confusion - but, then, I've never been a huge fan of excessive surreality in my stories. Ultimately, I split the difference with a dead-even Okay rating.
As a closing note, Amazon lists two versions, one in paperback and one on Kindle; since, normally, all versions show up under the same listing, I have to assume there is some difference between the two editions. Since it was the Kindle version I read, that's the one I linked to.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Skellig (David Almond) - My Review
Stoneheart (Charlie Fletcher) - My Review
The High House (James Stoddard) - My Review

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Truth About Publishing on Kindle (Rick Frazier)

The Truth About Publishing on Kindle
Rick Frazier
Amazon Digital Services
Nonfiction, Business/Writing
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: With the increasing popularity of eBooks, a whole new world of potential income has opened up to writers and entrepreneurs. Learn how to write, publish, and promote your own eBooks via Amazon's Kindle platform.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: Yet another make-money-on-Amazon book, it barely touches on writing the content, focusing on how to format, upload, and promote your work. (Actually, it need not even be your work; this is another title that considers writing to be an optional factor in becoming a published author.) It reads like a sales pitch for the Amazon Kindle platform, crossed with a vague instruction manual on the KDP uploader software, with tips on using keywords for optimal product placement in search results. Some of the advice was so rushed it made little sense, or so vague as to be less than useful. While I can credit it for being exactly what it says it is, I can't say I found it particularly inspiring.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Secrets to Writing Your First eBook and Getting It Online (Haphiza Baboolal) - My Review
Write a F*$%ing Book Already (Jim Kukral) - My Review
Profit from the eBook Revolution (Bob Perry) - My Review

Chloe and the Lion (Mac Barnett and Adam Rex)

Chloe and the Lion
Mac Barnett, illustrations by Adam Rex
Fiction, YA Picture Book
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: Young Chloe, dizzy after a ride on the merry-go-round, takes a wrong turn on the way home. Suddenly, she's face-to-face with a... dragon? No, it's supposed to be a lion! Author Mac just wants to write his story, but his artist and his heroine keep getting in his way.

REVIEW: I stumbled across this one at work, and managed to read it during a lull. A clever story that should appeal to grown-ups as well as kids, it's a lesson in both persistence and adaptability. The pictures are just fun, even when Max has to try his own hand at art in a desperate attempt to finish his story, which doesn't go nearly as he'd planned. (As a writer myself, I can relate to stories taking on lives of their own... and stories insisting on being told, even when I don't think I can tell them.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Children Make Terrible Pets (Peter Brown) - My Review
Never Let Your Cat Make Lunch For You (Lee Harris) - My Review
Sir Toby Jingle's Beastly Journey (Wallace Tripp) - My Review

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fairy Metal Thunder (JL Bryan)

Fairy Metal Thunder
(The Songs of Magic series, Book 1)
JL Bryan
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: High school junior Jason loves nothing more than strumming out a tune on his old Fender. He was thrilled when he got a chance to join up with the Assorted Zebras, a garage band that'll be going places as soon as they can land a few paying gigs. Of course, having a crush on the lead singer Erin doesn't hurt. If only he could find a way to catch her attention...
When his kid sister, Katie, spots a strange creature robbing the house, Jason gives chase, following it through a door in a tree to the land of fairies. Here, he becomes entranced by the magical instruments of a fairy band - so entranced that he steals them. Surely, with instruments like these, the Assorted Zebras are bound to hit the big time, and Erin will finally notice Jason... but he and his bandmates soon discover that magic is not a toy, nor are fairies to be trifled with.

REVIEW: This story reminds me of a drawing by an artist who almost, but not quite, knows what they're doing. My eye roves around restlessly, trying to figure out what bugs me - something like flawed perspective or odd proportions that throws off the whole work. Fairy Metal Thunder has a decent polish that many self-published titles lack, with serviceable characters in a plot that, while not entirely original, is at least executed competently... but enough details are off that I just couldn't fully enjoy it.
Jason is a young adult cliche, down to the precocious kid sister and the conservative parents who don't approve of that newfangled rock 'n roll. He also acts too stupid to be a high school junior, taking far too long to clue in to the fact that fairies are dangerous and their magic is more powerful than he understands. Erin's mostly an object for Jason to pine over, complete with a jerk stepdad and a boyfriend who takes her for granted. Actually, of all his bandmates, only the drummer Dred (short for Mildred) shows any hesitation over playing with enchanted instruments or meddling with strange powers; frankly, I would've rather had her developed as a character for Jason to fall for, a needed anchor to keep him - and the band - from doing some monumentally stupid things.
Then there's the fairy side of things, as the fairy musicians find themselves in deep trouble with the iron-fisted Queen Mab over the theft (when they were little brighter than Jason for leaving their powerful instruments lying around unguarded in a public place.) Their story goes nowhere after eating too much page count, though I suppose more will come of their predicament in Book 2. The goblin thief whose antics kick off the whole problem turns up again to pester Jason and provide comic relief, while being a crude glutton (likely because that's what goblins seem to be in most young adult literature these days.) There's some promise of originality with a disgruntled elf and his tracking unicorn, Buttercake, who are hired to retrieve the stolen instruments; in the finale, Buttercake shows the skeptical humans why the seemingly-benign unicorn is one of the most feared creatures in Fairyland. But, again, that originality gets shunted to the side, trampled by the stable of stock characters going through the motions of an average story.
Given the predictability, it reads quickly and fairly smoothly. I was considering giving it an extra half-star for being properly formatted (and mostly free of misspelled and misused words, flaws I've come to expect in self-published eBooks), but the final twenty percent of the file proved to be filler material. That seemed like a little much, especially when a good chunk of that wasn't even related to the author or the series.
Ultimately, while there's plenty Bryan did right here, I just found myself too caught up on the many weak spots.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Ruby Blue (Julie Cassar) - My Review
Bedlam's Bard (Mercedes Lackey with Ellen Guon) - My Review
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams) - My Review

Monday, May 13, 2013

How I Wrote My First Book: The Story Behind the Story (Lida E. Quillen and Anne K. Edwards, editors)

How I Wrote My First Book: The Story Behind the Story
Lida E. Quillen and Anne K. Edwards, editors
Twilight Times Books
Nonfiction, Writing
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: They say most anyone can write a book, but, statistically, only a small percentage of the population even try... and, of them, an even smaller number persevere through revisions and queries and rejection letters to be published. Several authors discuss how they became writers, overcoming obstacles both practical and psychological.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: I should probably state at the outset that, no, I have not read anything by any of the authors in this eBook. I do, however, have delusions of eventual authorship... delusions that every contributor not only shared at some point, but managed to miraculously transform into reality. As one might expect from a collection of essays, the writing varies significantly, along with my interest. While some seem wordy and dry and a few try too hard to be clever, other entries prove engaging. All present a side of the writing process not often seen by outsiders. Some formatting and proofreading issues aside, it wasn't a bad read. In the end, I found it more inspiring than not.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life (Terry Brooks) - My Review
Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg) - My Review
Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott) - My Review

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Castles (Gail Carson Levine)

A Tale of Two Castles
Gail Carson Levine
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: When Elodie left the small family farm to find her fortune in the city of Two Castles, her parents gave her plenty of advice. Never correct your elders. Keep your thoughts to yourself. Beware the false friend - the whited sepulcher, in common parlance. Be truthful. And above all else, avoid the company of ogres and dragons! Ogres are brutish and unreliable, able to assume any animal shape at will, and dragons... well, they won't even trust a human enough to reveal their gender. There is only one of each in Two Castles: Count Jonty Um, the ogre who owns the castle not held by the greedy king, and Masteress Meenore, who has lived among the people since IT hatched a century ago and has yet to incinerate a single soul (so far as anyone has seen.) The odds of Elodie meeting either seem slim to none. Besides, she's going to Two Castles to apprentice herself as a mansioner - an actress - and likely will be on the road before long. But from the first day, her journey goes wrong... and she finds herself apprenticed not to Master Sulow of the mansioners, but to Meenore! The dragon fancies ITself a detective, despite most people in Two Castles only valuing ITs services as a water heater and roaster of meat-and-cheese skewers in the market square. Under Meenore's wing, Elodie discovers new uses for her acting talents, as she helps investigate a dangerous plot that might shake the city, and the kingdom, to its very core.

REVIEW: I've read and enjoyed other works be Levine, and I liked the idea of a draconic Sherlock. For what it is, it's not a bad little jaunt. Elodie must learn to trust both her heart and her brain, rather than relying on others and their advice to do her thinking for her. Meenore makes a decent detective and an interesting dragon, ITs behavior just unpredictable enough to remind Elodie, and the reader, that IT is not just a scaled human being. As for the other characters, most have a little more to them than initially meets the eye, as befitting a mystery. For some reason, though, I just didn't feel it came together quite as neatly as Levine's other books. There were almost too many elements vying for attention: Elodie and her mansioning dreams, Meenore the unappreciated detective, hints of international espionage, a worthless glutton of a king, a message about prejudice... all mixed into a story that takes Puss in Boots and turns the tale on its ear, with the ogre being more sympathetic than the miller's son or his cat. My attention kept getting interrupted as this or that element rose up in my path. In the end, though, it proves a fair read, with a good mix of suspense, danger, and even humor, all suffused with fairy tale magic.
As a closing note, in the bonus material Levine mentions that she might revisit Elodie and Meenore in future sleuthing adventures. It might make for a fun series.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Midnight Magic (Avi) - My Review
Faniulh (Daniel Hood) - My Review
Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine) - My Review