Wednesday, September 29, 2010

REVIEW: "The Adventures of Whatley Tupper" by Rudy Kerkhoven

Did you ever wish you could have a "do over?" Well, Whatley Tupper gets a whole bunch in this story, and you're in charge of all of them! A "choose-your-own-adventure" for adults, "The Adventures of Whatley Tupper" is a riot. This ever-changing book lets you decide what choices Whatley makes, and that determines where his adventure leads you. Just like the kid version from the 70s-90s, but with decidedly adult themes, this one book provides you with a plethora of potential storylines.

I read the epub version, and it worked beautifully on my Sony PRS-505. I could scroll up and down to choose what Whatley should do next, and then just press the select button. Clicking on "the end" brought me right back to the beginning, so I could start all over again. There was definitely a "fun" aspect to this book. There were a few times, however, when something was assumed in a storyline, but never actually introduced in that particular path. For example, a certain person may be talked about a few choices in as if we've already been introduced, but that storyline never actually introduced that person to us. He (or she) was introduced in a different storyline I read at an earlier (or later) time. Confusing? It was for me as well, the few times it happened.

Riddled with such phrases as "The chase, or perhaps just the passage of time, had weathered away his rage like a dutiful urinal cake, leaving nothing more than cold, clammy, porcelain-hard fear," this book will not likely be mistaken for  great literature. The writing is campy and the situations outrageous to the point of comical. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, I kept coming back for another story. Perhaps I just wanted to see in which odd and unexpected situation I'd meet my end, or maybe I was dying to find out what "Q" was. Whatever the reason, I read about ten versions of the story before calling it a day.  The stories ranged from silly to downright ridiculous, but I was thoroughly entertained the entire way through. I could see the author creating an entire set, and re-igniting the choose-your-own-adventure series fad again, this time for adults.

3.5 /5 stars

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

REVIEW: "Flaming Dove" by Daniel Arenson

Armageddon. We know this to be the day when good vanquishes evil, light triumphs over dark, and God wins out over Satan. Or does He? In Daniel Arenson's "Flaming Dove," the battle between Heaven and Hell has yielded no clear winners, and, 27 years later, we find both sides exhausted and unsure of the next step. Unsure, that is, until the day Laila, the half demon/half angel child of Armageddon's most powerful forces, returns to Jerusalem, and each side begins to formulate a plan.

Set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Earth, where demons and angels have settled into an uneasy co-existence, and humans are all but extinct, Laila struggles to find her place. Heaven's godlight burns her, Hell's hellfires scorch her. She is of two worlds, but can belong to neither. Incredibly strong physically, emotionally vulnerable, and full of rage against both worlds, Laila unwillingly finds herself the key player in the continuing battle between good and evil.

Although filled with exciting battle scenes, and a cast of characters known to us all (Nathaniel, Lucifer, Beezlebub, Michael, to name a few), this is truly Laila's story. As Laila struggles to find her place, angels and demons alike try to use her for their own end. Each side believes Laila to be the key to victory. It is soon apparent that the entire outcome of Armageddon depends upon this one soul, and such an unwilling soul at that.

This book is a delightful read, with fluid writing and a nice pacing of action interspersed with tender moments. It was easy to get into this story, and hard to put it down. I love the way nothing is really cut and dry throughout this story; the Ruler of Hell is not without merits, and the archangels not without sin. The author really forces you to take a step back and question where the line between good and evil actually falls, if there is even such a line. The story seems predictable, but I was surprised many times with the events leading up to the climax of the story. Even when I thought I had finished the story, there was one last surprise waiting for me at the end, a surprise that really drove home a main theme of the story. Best of all, the ending did what all the best endings do; it left me with something to ponder.

I really enjoyed this story, and I believe Daniel Arenson is an author to watch! "Flaming Dove" is available on Smashwords, Amazon for Kindle, as well as in paperback.

5/5 stars

Sunday, September 26, 2010

REVIEW: "Hemlock and the Wizard Tower" by B. Throwsnaill

Within the Prologue of this story, you are immediately drawn into a magical world where practitioners can heal or harm with the use of magic. But the magic is fading in the Warrens, and Hemlock is impelled to find out why. With a bravery known only to a few, she sets out on an epic adventure to infiltrate the Wizard Tower in the City. There, she plans to destroy the machine she believes is sucking all the magic out of the Warrens. This adventure takes on unexpected turns, as Hemlock finds herself joining forces with a series of magical beings, in a variety of unexpected places.

This book is truly an epic, following Hemlock through many adventures to accomplish her main goal. It is set up to be a serial, and there is plenty of room for the adventure to continue. Hemlock's story is not over yet. While reading, I was reminded of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, although I must admit I haven't read them for many, many years. The worlds created in this book are rich with detail, and this initial story could easily be divided into two stories. After such detailed adventure throughout the story, the ending seemed quite rushed to me. It felt like the pivotal scene with Falignus would actually be better served in a second story. There are seven Wands, perhaps seven stories would be realistic?  

As I began reading this book, I immediately noticed that the writing, though fluid and obviously well thought out, was quite dense with description. In trying to decide if I liked the extremely detailed and descriptive writing, I soon realized that it left nothing to the imagination. I think one of the wonderful things about reading is the ability to let the reader infer some of the storyline. When the reader is inferring, the reader is engaged in the story, and it becomes that much more enjoyable. We all want to lose ourselves in great books, this is why we read. In this story, there was nothing to infer, as it was all spelled out quite clearly. Although I think the writing was well-constructed, I really wanted a bit less, so I could engage more. I wasn't able to truly immerse myself in the story; I felt as if I were reading a clinical reporting on an historic adventure. This detached feeling I got from reading was disappointing, as the storyline was ultimately one in which I could have truly engaged. The rich details were engaging, the extensive explanation so there was nothing to infer was not.

In addition to the very detailed writing, there were a few inconsistencies that were confusing. The author used flashbacks to give us much of the backstory, which I think is a helpful writing technique. The flashbacks were used inconsistently, however. In the beginning, there were many flashbacks in a short amount of time, and then none for quite a while. I think spacing the flashbacks out more evenly would be a more effective way to use them. Allowing us to become part of the Hemlock's journey on the way to the Wizard Tower would eliminate the need for some of those initial flashbacks, and engage the reader. Flashbacks were written in italics, which was helpful for distinguishing what was happening now versus what had already happened, but at one point in the story, we are given a "side flash" to see what Falignus was up to. Because the side flash was also written into italics, it was difficult at first to see that this was happening in present times rather than in the past. Other "side flashes" were written without italics, so I wasn't sure why this one was in italics.

Another technique that really threw me off was the use of quote marks to mark what characters were thinking. It was very distracting, as quotes to me say that someone is speaking, and it wasn't immediately clear the the character was only thinking inside her (or his) head.  In one part of the story, it is clear that the writing is referring to Hemlock's thoughts, and then suddenly one of her thoughts is in quotes. I wondered why use quotes at all if her thoughts could have continued to be given without them.

There were several small typos throughout the story (e.g., Coty for City, "it's" instead of "its," a missing letter here or there); enough that I noticed, but not enough to really detract from the story. The use of commas, or lack of commas, in places was distracting, however. There were many commas missing in direct addresses, such as "It is fine Hemlock, we can wait for a time" he replied (p. 357).  Are we speaking here of "fine Hemlock," or telling Hemlock it is fine? Also in that example, there is no comma at the end of his quote (inside the quote marks). It's always been my understanding that punctuation is necessary at the end of quotes, and it comes within the quotation marks. In this case, a comma would be appropriate after the word "time."

I really think that revising would take this really interesting storyline to the next step and become the epic adventure the author intended. If you like detailed epic fantasy, this book is right up your alley. Either way, I do think this is a story with great potential, and I was glad to be on Hemlock's adventure.

3 /5 stars

Edited on 9/29/10 to add the following:

This review has been on my mind lately. I know that I wrote the review shortly after finishing the story, while it was fresh in my mind. I edited the review several times before hitting the "publish post" button. I really thought about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to rate the book. It's one of my most detailed reviews. Yet, for some reason, I am still pondering what I've written.

There is such substance to this story, such rich detail, such an intricate, well-thought out storyline. There are symbolic parallels that can be drawn to modern-day issues (e.g., energy crisis/magic crisis, for one). There are characters that are interesting and deep, sometimes leaving you guessing what "side" they are really on. The writing in this story is fluid and descriptive. And yet I felt (and still feel) that the finished product, for me, falls within that 3 star range.

Is it that there was so much in there that it was hard for me to focus on the main idea? Is it that the excessive explaining prevented me from really fully engaging, as I indicated in my original review? Is it that the inconsistencies and/or typos I noted were enough to deter me from fully enjoying the book?

I'm honestly not sure. I think, to me, it feels like a work with so much potential that somehow didn't hit the mark I was expecting. I was drawn in from the beginning, and I loved the path I saw the book initially taking, but somewhere along the way I became a bit lost in the details. I really think my main issue was with the excessive explanations, and the fact that it made me feel more like I was reading an accounting of an adventure, and not totally invited to share in the adventure. I suspect some people really enjoy that type of detailed writing, and, to be honest, I did enjoy the book (a 3 star rating for me is a book I'd recommend to others). I really wanted to see how it ended, I really was interested in the characters and the plot. I just think perhaps, in the end, I didn't feel a part of the story. Am I the only one who feels that's an essential part of reading? To lose oneself in the story? I'd love to hear your comments!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

When I'm Not Reading...

Yikes! I tried to participate in something, and I did it totally wrong! Hate when that happens.... I was reading this post on "The Unread Reader" blog about things we do when we're not reading. And I decided to participate. Well, I've just now figured out that I did it wrong. I think I was supposed to write my comment on my own blog, and not below her post. Whoops. Chalk it up to newbie-ness. I'm a work in progress!

Anyway, when I'm not reading, I'm usually surfing the net, checking out MobileRead forums, finding new and exciting authors on Smashwords, out walking or running, playing with my kids (or taking them to various activities- soccer, play practice, dance class, etc etc), chilling with a little TV, or working. Mostly, I'm working. Good thing I love my job!

So anyway, my apologies to anyone who was inadvertently confused by my failure to follow procedure. Please visit again!

REVIEW: "The Kinshield Legacy" by K.C. May

If this book were a movie, my husband would be all over it! In fact, I can picture it as a series he would follow as eagerly as he follows "Legends of the Seeker,"  and for much the same reasons. This genre isn't typically my preferred type of reading material, but the description was intriguing so I wanted to give it a go.

Wow. I was hooked in the first chapter and had trouble putting the book down to sleep last night. Each of the first few chapters introduces new people, people whose lives and stories become inextricably tied together as the story continues. One of the things that sometimes turns me off about the fantasy genre is the whole new language one must learn to understand what is going on. There are new names for objects, actions, types of people... it's like taking a confusing crash course in a foreign language. That's a lot of work when all I want to do is enjoy. Although K.C. May introduces new creatures and unfamiliar items with unusual names, the book is very readable, and there was no confusion. I didn't have to work to enjoy; this fantastical world is seamlessly woven into terms to which we can all relate.

The writing style is such that it was very easy to become engaged in the story. When I read some stories, I find myself constantly thinking of how I would have written certain lines or paragraphs differently. That tells me that the writing is not to my standards, and it distracts me from the story the author is trying to tell. When reading this story, however, I found myself enthralled and fully immersed in the adventure. The pacing of the chapters and introduction of new characters was ideal for maintaining interest and moving the story along without drawing anything out unnecessarily. Sometimes bad things happen to great characters, and I mourned the unavoidable losses along the way, even as I celebrated the small victories. I cringed, I delighted, I was completely and utterly engaged. 

The ending is very satisfying in and of itself, but it does open the door for a sequel. I, for one, am eager to read more from this talented author.

5/ 5 stars

Friday, September 17, 2010

REVIEW: "Dark End of the Spectrum" by Anthony S. Policastro

With some serious editing, this book would make a good movie. The plot is consistent with some of the action/adventure thrillers gracing the screen, and the concept is original, and one I haven't quite seen before.

That being said, this book needs a lot of work. The author uses a lot of descriptive language, and some of it is quite nice. However, those phrases are thrown into a mix of run-on sentences filled with grammar errors, and noticeably lacking proper punctuation (I'm not sure there is a comma anywhere). Quite a few times, I found myself giggling parts I am pretty sure were not meant to be funny. Many chapter divisions seem to come in the wrong place, throwing off the cadence of the book. The dialogue is awkward, and there seems to be only two ways people talk, one of which is "yelling." At times I felt like the author thought of a few cool ways to say something, couldn't decide which one to use, then put them all in. I think good editing would make for a more succinct and engaging storyline. There are also a lot of strange transitions, confusing action scenes, and extraneous events that detract from the storyline. Less is more.

As I started reading, I wanted to give this book at least three stars. Then I kept reading and wanted to give it one star. Just by virtue of actually wanting to finish it (which I did by doing a fair amount of skimming so I wouldn't be distracted so much by the writing), I gave it one and a half stars.

I found the topic interesting, a
nd I wanted to like the book. After some serious editing and revising, perhaps I could.

1.5 / 5 stars

REVIEW: "Alone in the Company of Others" by Kelly Huddleston

Rife with symbolism and double meanings, this book is a very interesting, although sometimes confusing, ride. Initially slow starting, you are soon swept up in the storyline, wanting to know what happens to all the richly developed characters contained therein. I founds myself drawn in (though vaguely disgusted at times) by the relationship between the Camille and Russell, fascinated by the life of Wilsie, intrigued by the apparent motivations of the various and ever-changing members of the household, and interested, overall, in the events that led up to ending.

The story jumps around a little too much for my taste, and a few transitions were confusing as I struggled to put the timeline back in the correct order in my head. That being said, the storyline is rich and unusual, and definitely worth the read. It is the type of book that sticks with you, even after you've finished reading. You've left thinking about the characters long after their stories end, and wondering, perhaps, what you would have done differently. Be forewarned, this is a book upon which you need to concentrate your total attention in order to get the full meaning and the rich symbolism.

4/5 stars

PHOTOS: Palms Away!

So I've been taking pictures.... Maybe I've been here in the sun too long, but palms can be very photogenic. The different types! The angles! The coconuts... oh wait, that's only a certain kind of palm.

(By the way, I have the *worst* time trying to organize these pictures the way I want them... I don't get how to move them around on the page properly. What secret am I missing??)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

REVIEW: "Remix" by Lexi Revellian

A quick read, "Remix," by Lexi Revellian, follows Caz Tallis as she becomes an unwitting accomplice in a cover-up. A dead rock star who shows up undead? An unsolved murder with many possible suspects? Someone is lying, but who is it? Caz is drawn into an unofficial investigation of sorts, and she finds herself unable to decide whether to follow her heart or the advice of others.

Caz is a very likable character, and I found myself rooting for her. The story unfolds easily, and the reader is pulled happily along as Caz struggles to decide who is lying to her and where the truth really lies. The characters are well drawn-out and engaging, the storyline fluid and entertaining. Details about Caz's home and career (restoring old rocking horses) added to the overall tone of the book and helped contextualize the out-of-the-ordinary happenings in Caz's life. I found myself unable to put the book down, wanting to read the next page, and the next, all to find out the next little nugget of information so I could figure out what the real story was.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. My only complaint is that the climatic scene seems a little more drawn out than it needs to be. At one point I did find myself thinking "why is he dragging this out? Doesn't that put him more at-risk?" (I won't identify who "he" is, as I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't read it!) I look forward to more books by Lexi Revellian!

4.5/ 5 stars

PHOTOS: Water, Water, Everywhere!

Pictures from around the nearby heiau.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

PHOTOS: Images from a Coffee Farm....

Palms getting friendly. 
A few pictures images I found interesting when living on the coffee farm. Click to enlarge any picture!

Watch out for falling coconuts!
Bees like noni.
Pineapples start small!

Coffee beans look so tasty!

Anthuriums grow well. 

REVIEW: "The PMS Murder" by Laura Levine

At the library, I picked a few books whose covers intrigued me, and this was one of my picks. I haven't read the first four in the series, instead choosing to start at number five. Pretty much because that was the book my library had. 

My first thought was that Laura Levine's writing style was reminiscent of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, in a good way. Levine's main character, Jaine Austen (no, not that one!), had the quirkiness of Stephanie along with her bad luck and hilarious mishaps, but Jaine finds herself in situations that aren't quite as wild and wacky as Stephanie's. In other words, Jaine Austen's life seems slightly more subdued, but no less entertaining.  
In another case where the main character's life mimics the author's to some extent, Jaine is a freelance writer who has written a few jingles and has a myriad of interesting writing jobs in her resume. On the side, she solves mysteries, on an as-needed basis. In this installment, a chance meeting with an interesting woman lands Jaine acceptance into a small, elite women's group, where she finds friends in another (higher) social class. When one of those women is murdered right in front of the others, Jaine finds herself tainted by association and must delve in to help solve the murder so she can get her life back. 
Jaine is a very likable character. I can definitely relate to her love of good food (and lots of it!) and the misfortune that falls upon her as she struggles to find a good job. The writing is fluid and fun, the plot engaging and entertaining. Jaine is spunky and witty, and I feel like we'd get along just fine in real life. Jaine is the kind of character you'd like to know, if only to make yourself look more put together and "with it." I'm looking forward to reading more books in this series!

4/5 stars

(updated 9/13)   
I read the next book in the series as well- "Death by Pantyhose." I didn't want to make a separate post review, as the styling and plot are so similar, so suffice to say I enjoyed this one as well. A very quick read, equally entertaining and fun, with yet another murder to solve. Jaine manages to stumble her way through her investigation to finally hit upon the murderer and solve the case. Her continued struggle with the opposite sex makes you root for her to get the boy, and the ending leaves us wondering what's next for the couple.  

One thing I didn't note before that became a bit more of a distraction during the second book I read was the cat, Prozac. Jaine "reads" Prozac's mind and we as readers are privy to what Prozac is thinking. Perhaps I'm just not really a cat person, but that did get a little annoying after a while. In the first story, I found them somewhat amusing, but now I am not such a fan. The emails coming from Jaine's parents, however, are truly amusing that add to the story, if only to give you an idea of how Jaine may have become the way she is today. The apple may not fall far from the tree, in this case!

All in all, another fun read! 
4/5 stars