Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Site Update

The previous 6 book reviews are now archived and cross-linked on the main site.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Glimpse (Stephen Whibley)

The Dean Curse Chronicles, Book 1)
Steven Whibley
Steven Whibley Publishing
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Dean Curse wasn't always cursed, unless his kid sister Becky counted. He used to be a pretty normal kid. Then, a few days before his fourteenth birthday, he stumbles across a man being beat up in an alley. Afterwards, strange things start to happen - visions out of nowhere, of people screaming in deathly fear. At first, Dean thinks it's just post-traumatic stress, as his psychologist father diagnoses. Then he sees those same faces on the obituary page. As Dean struggles to understand what's happened to him, he sees more faces... very familiar faces. Can Dean really change the future, or are people he loves truly marked for death?

REVIEW: This wasn't a bad story, but it felt oddly schizophrenic. On the one hand, there's Dean faced with horrific visions of death - not simple heart attacks or old age, but violent deaths, sometimes right in front of his eyes. On the other, there's the lighthearted, almost slaphappy feel to the rest of the book. Dean's mom is a faint-hearted cliche, his dad an ignorant overanalyzer, and his sister's a snot-nosed little brat. His best friends Colin and Lisa could easily be renamed Ron and Hermione; Colin's the comic relief, and Lily's the worried thinker of the trio. There's even a school bully named Drac- er, Eric, though he only has one goon follower. I suppose this was a deliberate attempt to counter the horrors of squaring off against Fate and death, but it went a little far. Dean and his pals seem to accept the matter a little too easily; his father may be portrayed as an overthinker, but he really has a point when he worries about his son's mental state, given the traumas he's endured. (Even the Animorphs experienced psychological fallout...) It also took too long to figure out the nature of Dean's curse; he has three horrific visions before he (or the reader) begins to even have a clue what the screaming ghosts mean. While it read quickly and relatively smoothly, I ultimately couldn't bring myself to care enough about Dean or his curse to continue this series.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Supernaturalist (Eoin Colfer) - My Review
The Ghost in the Third Row (Bruce Coville) - My Review
Ghost Ship (Dietlof Reiche) - My Review

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kingdom of the Serpent's Eye (Malla Duncan)

Kingdom of the Serpent's Eye
(A Barry Philpot book)
Malla Duncan
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Adventure/Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Barry Philpot's no stranger to adventure. Still, when the gorgeous Laney sashays into his office and demands his help finding her father, lost in the Amazon, even he hesitates. She claims he was simply seeking specimens of the rare Diamond-Toed frog, but rumors of a lost city and unknown natives abound. Despite himself, Barry and his loyal associate, Finch, accompany Laney into the jungle... and into the heart of a legend older than civilization.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: A freebie download, it looked like a fun little read, an adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, it plays out like a cheap, direct-to-DVD knockoff. Barry and his associates never become more than cardboard cutouts: he's the generic hero, Finch is his educated (and occasionally comic) sidekick, and Laney's a bothersome yet beautiful woman who creates far more trouble than she solves, deliberately endangering the entire expedition by holding back vital secrets until they're in the thick of danger. The book tries to bill itself as a romance, but, aside from Barry ogling Laney's oft-described curves at every opportunity, there isn't so much as an atom of chemistry. It goes through the motions of a wild adventure, what with superstitious natives and jungle secrets and the obligatory legend or two, but with little genuine suspense and no real heart. It ends much as it begins, with a tired cliche. On the plus side, at least it read fast, and it was free.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Lost World (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - My Review
King Solomon's Mines (H. Rider Haggard) - My Review
Leepike Ridge (N. D. Wilson) - My Review

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Clockwork Kingdom (Leah R. Cutter)

Clockwork Kingdom
Leah R. Cutter
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Twins Nora and Dale were too old to believe in fairies. With a domineering father and a sickly mother, who risked her life and health the day she grabbed the kids and fled to the Oregon coast, their life is anything but a fairy tale. Then Dale found his way to a dilapidated house full of strange and marvelous clockwork devices. Despite Nora's warnings, he took one home, his mechanic's mind unable to resist the challenge of deciphering its purpose. Little do either of them suspect that the device was created by fairies - and the cruel Queen Adele has been searching for a human with Tinker abilities to finish the last, greatest machine of her late husband, a machine that will destroy humanity's hold on the world and allow her people to rise up again. If Nora can't stop her own family from disintegrating before her eyes, what chance does she have of saving her twin brother from the clutches of the fairy queen?

REVIEW: At first glance, this looked like half a hundred other young adult fantasies on the market: twins from a broken home, a remote setting, a hidden fairy kingdom, and so forth. However, this proves to be anything but another Fluffy Bunny book. The stakes aren't just bruised elbows and hurt feelings: they are literally life and death. Queen Adele comes from the warrior class of fairies - explaining some of her ruthlessness, not to mention her struggles to hold onto her crown now that her royal-born husband is dead - but even the royals would happily kill a human child if it suited their ambitions. The dwarf Kostya, their enemy, only helps so long as it hurts the fairies: he, too, would be perfectly willing to slit the twins' throats if it thwarted Adele. Then there's the all-too-human threat of the children's father, a control-freak twisted by a terrible childhood, bound and determined to rescue his son from his "weak" wife and other corrupting influences that are destroying his family and the country. Even the twins find their bonds tested to the utmost, conflicting personalities pushed to the breaking point by the many threats around them. The story reads quickly, with blessedly few instances of characters behaving stupidly just to further the plot; they all must learn fast, if sometimes the hard way, and figure out how to solve their own problems. The ending wraps up many of the story threads, while leaving enough open for possible sequels... though the Epilogue hints that such sequels might be very grim, indeed. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. I might have to track down more of Cutter's books, time and budget willing.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan) - My Review
Shadowbloom (Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan) - My Review
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams) - My Review

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Sons Will Eat Today (Debra Borchert)

My Sons Will Eat Today
Debra Borchert
Amazon Digital Services
Fiction, Historical Fiction
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: In late-1700's France, revolution has swept the country like a wildfire, devouring lives and leaving chaos in its wake. Struggling to feed her sons in a city without so much as a loaf of bread - bakers having been scared out of town after one was executed for serving the hated aristocrats - a carpenter's widow finds herself caught up in an ill-advised march to the palace in Versailles.
A Kindle-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This short story manages the tricky feat of evoking a historic setting without browbeating the reader with infodumps or Messages. Francoise's stark reality would not be out of place in a post-apocalyptic horror tale. Raw anger and frustration may have been enough to topple the existing regime in France, but it seems that nobody had a viable alternative to replace it, leaving many worse off - and even angrier and more frustrated - than they were suffering under the arrogant aristocrats. One starts to wonder if the repeated waves of peasant assaults were intended to institute a better government or simply ensure a quicker death than starvation and exposure. Still, children must eat, and if the so-called revolutionaries have forgotten that in their bloodlust, mothers like Francoise must remember. It reads fast, if dark, painting a grim portrait of lives in turmoil. Given my uneven luck with short stories, I kicked it up an extra half-star.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Beyond the Western Sea (Avi) - My Review
The Glasswright's Apprentice (Mindy L. Klasky) - My Review

What's Your Book? (Brooke Warner)

What's Your Book?
Brooke Warner
She Writes Press
Nonfiction, Writing
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: A thriller, a romantic comedy, a memoir... you have a book in you that you'd love to publish, but you don't know how. Maybe you have a manuscript but don't know how to tell if it's any good, or maybe you keep finding ways to stop yourself from starting. Let an experienced author lead you through the process, from getting out of your own way to building a multimedia platform to promote yourself and your book.

REVIEW: Another how-to-write/how-to-publish guide, it covers similar information to other such books I've read, enough that I found myself skimming now and again. The author's experience in the publishing world offers more insight to how that world is changing, and what the savvy writer needs to know to keep ahead of those changes and maximize their chances of success. She emphasizes the need to build a visible platform, generating a reading audience even before submitting to agents or editors, in order to be noticed in the slush pile; I'm not certain that's 100% accurate, from my own research, but if you're a social person I don't think it can hurt. The eBook edition I read offers links at the end for helpful resources, a nice bonus. All in all, this isn't a bad guide. I just found myself skimming a little too often for a solid Good rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Writers Write (William Meikle) - My Review
Write your novel in 7 days or less: the shortcut to writing fast and good (Mark Quadmire) - My Review
So You Want an Author Platform? (Louise Wise) - My Review

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Art of the Dragon (J. David Spurlock and Patrick Wilshire)

The Art of the Dragon
J. David Spurlock and Patrick Wilshire
Vanguard Productions
Nonfiction, Art
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Few images are as ubiquitous as the dragon. With variations found in most every culture dating back to prehistoric times, dragons have been a part of humanity since its inception, and continue to accompany us to this very day. This book collects images from some modern masters of dragon art, along with interviews of some top fantasy artists including Boris Vallejo, Michael Whelan, Julie Bell, and others.

REVIEW: It's no secret than I'm a dragon nut. This collection offers a decent variety of dragons, with excellent reproductions. The interviews reveal how each artist approaches the subject of dragons, even dragons drawn for commission rather than personal pleasure. (Indeed, many of these images come from the venerated Dungeons & Dragons franchise, as the role-playing game was instrumental in creating the modern image of the beasts.) I'm still not a huge fan of Boris Vallejo, but at least I now understand some of where he's coming from. It could've used more full-page spreads to showcase the artwork, but other than that I have few complaints. An excellent book for lovers of fantasy art and dragons!

You Might Also Enjoy:
Forging Dragons (John Howe) - My Review
Fantasy Art Masters (Dick Jude) - My Review
The Art of Michael Whelan (Michael Whelan) - My Review