Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December Site Update

The final site update of the year, on the final day of the year. (Personally, I'm counting the minutes until 2013 finally leaves for good...)

The previous 6 reviews have been cross-linked and archived on the main site.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Riders of the Purple Sage (Zane Grey)

Riders of the Purple Sage
Zane Grey
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Western
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Jane Withersteen's father left her a legacy of wealth and respect in 1870's Cottonwoods, a Mormon settlement in the sage-swept deserts of Utah... but now, having befriended the outsider Gentiles and defied church elders by showing affection for the wrong man, she stands on the brink of ruin. The last person she ever thought she'd consider an ally was the legendary Mormon-killer Lassiter, yet when her Gentile friend Bern Venters is threatened by elder Tull, only Lassiter's arrival spares him. As cattle rustlers, church-led conspiracies, and other threats close in on the Withersteen estate, Jane finds herself more and more reliant on the mysterious man, even as she learns the truth behind his violent and vengeful reputation.

REVIEW: This is a book where setting outshines both story and characters by orders of magnitude. The wild deserts and rough canyon country glow on the page, painted bright and bold. Even the tension of the frontier world, with the threat of stampedes and rustlers and religious tensions, takes on a stark and tangible nature. The characters, by comparison, come across as flattened cartoons, their speech and moods melodramatic almost to the point of comedy. The women are universally innocent and soft and in need of masculine protection, while the men are grizzled soldiers in the bloody game of frontier life... even the good guys, who nonetheless crave the salvation of a lady's touch. Even as they wrestled with their own imperfections, they did so in such grandiose manners that it was almost laughable. The worst offender by far was Jane Withersteen, who clings to blind faith long past the point of sympathy or sense simply to prolong her inner angst. Thanks in no small part to her and the rest of the over-the-top cast, the story often stretches credulity, with peculiar meetings and withheld information and impossible coincidences, not to mention a tendency to relay important encounters secondhand to the readers. The whole thing takes on a soap opera sheen at the climax. I enjoyed some of the descriptions, and a few of the action sequences had real tension, but overall I found myself too annoyed by the characters.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Killing Dirty (Peter Clark) - My Review
A Pocket Full of Spells (Ash Stirling) - My Review
Devil's Tower (Mark Sumner) - My Review

Friday, December 20, 2013

This Is Not My Hat (Jon Klassen)

This Is Not My Hat
Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press
Fiction, YA Picture Book
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: A little fish steals a little hat from a fish who was far too big to wear it.

REVIEW: Remind me never to steal a hat from Jon Klassen... As in I Want My Hat Back (reviewed previously), thieves do not fare well in Klassen's world. The illustrations are simple, telling more of the story than the text. It's a very quick read.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Catkin (Antonia Barber) - My Review
I Want My Hat Back (Jon Klassen) - My Review
Fairy Dreams (Carol McLean-Carr) - My Review

Friday, December 13, 2013

Magical Roads (Kia Zi Shiru)

Magical Roads
Kia Zi Shiru
5 Times Chaos
Fiction, YA Collection/Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: A boy prepares to leave the safety of mother and home, a girl pushes boundaries without understanding the consequences, a young man reflects on his first family hunting trip, a traditional family vacation takes on deeper meaning... the author shares four short stories in this collection. This title also includes a preview chapter from a longer book.

REVIEW: Yes, I'm on a bit of a short story kick. The holidays are busy, and with so many projects competing for attention, they fit my fragmented concentration better than longer works right now. That said, this isn't a bad little collection, though the author seems to be trying a little too hard for "surprise" twist endings - which is odd, given how heavy-handed the teen sex and pregnancy metaphor was in the tale Hatchling. Two of the stories also seemed to end just before the story proper actually started. As for the preview, I confess I didn't finish reading it, so I cannot comment except to say that I didn't feel, from the offered synopsis, that it would be my cup of cocoa. (I also don't like being force-fed a sales pitch.) I've definitely read worse, though.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Strange Happenings (Avi) - My Review
The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories (C. S. Forster) - My Review
Here, There be Dragons (Jane Yolen) - My Review

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Dragonfold (Tyrean Martinson)

Tyrean Martinson
Wings of Light
Fiction, YA Collection/Fantasy/Sci-Fi
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: A girl with a strange gift for origami, a one-armed soldier finds a reason to live, a young woman is sold into an interstellar army... these and other tales and poems unfold in this collection.

REVIEW: This might have merited three or three and a half stars, but a few things held it down. First off, many of the stories felt incomplete. Some were actually excerpts from longer works - making this more of a sales pitch than a story collection - but even the stand-alones often left me wishing for closure of some sort, setting up larger arcs or conflicts and simply leaving them hang. The religious bias, even in alternate worlds (which would have no knowledge of the Christian God, let alone Christian songs), grew a little thick now and again, as well. I also found myself nonplussed with many of Martinson's poems. What was here, for the most part, read smoothly, without glaring editing errors or jumbled grammar or other issues. I liked one or two stories, and parts of a few others. I just felt annoyed with the overall lack of resolution, not to mention the excerpt-heavy selection. (If I'd wanted to read incomplete previews, I would've used the "Look Inside!" option on Amazon.)

You Might Also Enjoy:
Fifty-One Tales (Lord Dunsany) - My Review
Dragon Poems for Smiletrain.org 2011 (M. R. Mathias) - My Review
The Book of Enchantments (Patricia Wrede) - My Review

Friday, December 6, 2013

How to Get a Billion Dollar Idea (Robin Sacredfire)

How to Get a Billion Dollar Idea
Robin Sacredfire
Nonfiction, Self-Help
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: You see it all the time: someone comes up with a simple idea, and succeeds beyond their wildest dreams. Yet it never seems to happen for you. How can you be the next success story?

REVIEW: Yes, it was free when I downloaded it. No, I wouldn't pay money for what I read. Baffling grammar and circular writing aside, this is just more of the same positive manifestation stuff that everyone and their brother's already selling. Granted, Sacredfire isn't charging through the nose for seminars or workshops, but that doesn't excuse this book for never actually answering its title question, let alone providing anything like a plan for evaluating ideas and pursuing them. Mostly, it tells readers that they simply aren't dreaming hard enough, and thus they have only themselves to blame if they're not rich already.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Simple But Effective Strategies to Improve Yourself (Robert Eastwood) - My Review
Making a Living Without a Job (Barbara J. Winter) - My Review

Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2012 Edition (Liz Gorinsky, David G. Hartwell, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editors)

Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2012 Edition
Liz Gorinsky, David G. Hartwell, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editors
Fiction, Anthology/Fantasy/Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: A painter of magic renders her embittered mentor's final portrait, an expectant mother uses breakthrough technology to visit her own unhappy childhood, alien bounty hunters seek a human criminal hiding among primitives, Doc Holliday escorts an unusual group to an otherworldly derelict outside of Tombstone... this anthology features these and more stories written by some of Tor's top names.
An eBook-exclusive title.

REVIEW: This freebie download is clearly intended as an enticement to explore the authors' works. Unfortunately, novelists don't always make the best short story authors. Many of these stories ramble on (and on), focusing on unpleasant characters in depressing situations who often do unlikeable things. I liked a few of the ideas, but only one or two of these short stories worked for me. The rest were quickly forgotten.

You Might Also Enjoy:
A Glory of Unicorns (Bruce Coville, editor) - My Review
The Dragon Book (Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, editors) - My Review
Flights of Fantasy (Mercedes Lackey, editor) - My Review