Friday, December 31, 2010

I Heart Indie Books Reading Challenge- 2011

I happened upon one more challenge that was perfect for me-- the "I Heart Indie Books Reading Challenge" at Indie Paranormal Book Reviews. Since I almost exclusively read/review Indie books, I figure I have this one in the bag. So I'm posting to encourage everyone else to give Indie books a try! I've found some great authors and some incredible books by focusing on Independent and Self-Published authors. 

The full set of information is here. Shortcut version? Read indie books-- one or more-- and you're a participant. There are different levels to reach, but I think the important one is just to read and explore Indie offerings. Keep a list on your blog or on the Goodreads page. Sign up and start reading! I challenge everyone to find a new favorite Indie author to follow. So who's with us?? 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

REVIEW: "And Then She Was Gone" by J. Daniel Sawyer

Clarke Latham is a cynical PI who's been around the block a few times. With his background on the police force and his jaded life experiences, not much surprises him anymore. When he accepts a job tracking down a wayward adult daughter, he finds himself entrenched in a mystery that extends far beyond this young woman and her proclivity for risk-taking and sexual promiscuity. Something's not quite right about this case- or this girl- and Clarke is going to get to the bottom of this mystery... or die trying.
Taking us on a whirlwind tour in short order, J. Daniel Sawyer has pulled out all the stops. The moment I read the first page, it brought to mind the classic noir image of a darkened PI office, a busty blond walking in, and the hard-talking, innocently cynical banter between them. Hard boiled detective novels are not at typical genre for me. That being said, I wonder why I haven't read more; I was hooked from the beginning. There were very few slow spots, but I must admit to being confused by some of the action scenes. In keeping with the pithy and witty writing style so suited to this genre, those scenes lacked a depth that would have allowed me to follow along a little better. No wasted words in this novel, with the exception of  the kind of over-description that recalls the banter between Maddie and David in the TV series "Moonlighting." Clarke mostly seemed to banter with himself (or, essentially, the reader), and some of the more succinct paragraphs were sometimes grating when they came one after another. I noticed this more towards the latter half of the novel. It worked for me in most of the book, but left me a little cold in some of the intense action, where I struggled to keep up with too few words to guide me. 

The storyline adds a modern twist to this genre, and it's pretty compelling to try to follow the tantalizing little clues to determine who did what and, most importantly, why. Quite a bit of the storyline (and what Clarke thinks about it) is shared via Clarke's ruminations on his progress, which was great for me in the beginning, but it started to wear a bit towards the second half of the book. I wanted this lone star to have a foil with whom to interact. Rachael, his intern who is much more present in the end of the story and only pops up briefly here and there before that, would have been perfect as that foil. With a little more "screen time" for Rachael, Clarke would have had a Maddie for his David, and that would have had the added advantage of letting us get to know him through another lens. Clarke had an interesting head full of thoughts, but I didn't want to spend quite so much time just in his head.

Stylistically, this book fits its genre rather well. Clarke's and Nya's characters were as developed as they should be for this type of book, with the other characters a little less so. It was pretty well-edited, with only a few minor errors here and there. Like any good serialized novel, the ending leaves you with the hint of a possible adversary, as yet a mystery, who may rear her head again in future stories. Fortunately, fans of the book won't have to wait long for the next book- it's already out.Overall, a nicely written, modernized hard boiled detective story. Witty and pithy, with a storyline that keeps you engaged, this is a recommended read. 

4 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

REVIEW: "Anomaly" by Thea Atkinson

J isn't your typical guy, uh, girl, uh... J is ever-changing; with J, you don't always quite know who- or what- you're going to get. With an identity that changes weekly, a bit of a self-destructive streak that promises trouble time and time again, a good friend who's trying hard to stay above water herself, and a neighbor who may need more help than J can give, life is never boring. Sometimes identity is not clearly defined by labels. And sometimes, just sometimes, it takes an objective bystander and a life-changing revelation to give the push needed to redefine an identity... perhaps by not defining it at all.

In this work of literary fiction, Thea Atkinson takes on the frequently misunderstood and often confusing world of transgenderism. J was born with genitalia that just doesn't always seem to match who he feels he is inside. "Anomaly" explores J's struggle to define himself to others, and, more importantly, to define himself to himself. Struggling to make others understand him, yet not even completely understanding himself, J is doomed to forever be an outsider in his own body. The author does a good job in helping to open up the door to explore what it may feel like to be given a body that just doesn't seem to fit who you are.

J's story may not be completely relatable to many people, but his/her struggle with identity was riveting not matter what your experience. Although the tumultuous struggle J had with his own relationship to himself was clearly defined, at times I felt it still lacked a bit of depth. It was well-described, and I was drawn in, but I didn't quite get all the way to actually feeling what he was experiencing. I felt like I was exploring an interesting case that certainly did pluck at my heart strings, but I was still the outsider to his experience. The characters were generally richly developed and interesting. We are made to understand the closeness of J's relationship with Molly, but I wanted just that touch more. We know how they met, but how did their relationship become a little less of a friendship and a little more symbiotic? How did they become more than "just friends?" I think the ending could be easily expanded a bit as well. J experiences several intense events in a short time span, and I wanted to see a little more about how those events collided in J's brain, and his mental processing as a result. I thought the story was really well-done, overall, but I think a little more fleshing out in those areas would have made it exceptional.

This is another book that could use that final editing pass to wipe out those last few errors (your and you're were interchanged several times, for example), but that was definitely secondary to the compelling prose that was used to tell J's tale. Very readable and thought-provoking, this book delves into an area not often approached in literature, and does it very nicely. As J comes to terms with himself, the reader may also find that identity cannot always be neatly labeled and packaged. Sometimes, a man isn't just a man. A recommended read.

4 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Monday, December 27, 2010

REVIEW: "Red in the Flower Bed" by Andrea Nepa

"Red in the Flower Bed" by Andrea Nepa is a children's book that tells the tale of interracial adoption by using the analogy of a flower seed. There is no room for the little poppy seed to grow up with the other poppy flowers, so the wind takes it along until it finds a suitable place with room and love for the seed to grow. The seed grows into a lovely red poppy, adding a new color to the flower garden.

Told in rhyme with colorful picture accompaniment, this story will appeal to children (and adults) of all ages. Children reading this story will likely not relate it to the idea of interracial adoption, but that leaves room for interpretations of all kinds. As a result, I think this book will appeal to all types of situations. This book has the potential to open up conversations between parent and child about differences and how those differences make each of us special.

The pictures are simple and engaging. They add context to the simple rhyme. The rhyme changes cadence from verse to verse, which gives it a very artistic feel, but may make reading it aloud a bit awkward the first time. Altogether, a lovely book and a recommended read.

4.5 /5 stars

Read an excerpt of the book here.

See the book trailer:

Available from Tribute Books and also on Amazon

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2011 "Show Me the Free" Reading Challenge

Like so many others, I have downloaded MANY free ebooks from various sources (mostly from Smashwords and Amazon) that are sitting on my Droid X or Sony and have yet to be read and loved. Basically, if it looked interesting, I grabbed it! So I've decided to enter Missie's "Show Me the Free Reading Challenge" at The Unread Reader.  The challenge is to read at least 12 legally obtained free books in 2011, review those books, and share those reviews. It's a challenge that's right up my alley, so we'll see how it goes!

Here is how it works:

  • Should you choose to participate in this challenge, your goal is to read at least twelve (12) legally obtained e-books which you got for FREE for your e-reading device. While twelve is the minimum there is no maximum limit.
  • Anyone can join. You don't have to be a blogger, and you don't have to live in the United States. 
  • Any E-Reader will work for this challenge, including: iPad, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, enTourage. 
  • Please Note: If you don't have an e-reading device, you can still join in with Amazon'sFree Kindle Reading Apps which you can download for your iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC, Blackberry and more.
  • The challenge runs from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. You can join at anytime.
  • e-books in ANY genre count for this challenge as long as it was FREE at the time that you downloaded it.
  • Every month in 2011, I will make a post for the Show Me The Free Reading Challenge so you can link your reviews. 
  • Those that link their reviews will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a different prize each month, such as an Amazon or Barnes & Noble Gift Card, a bookmark, or aGelaSkins for your E-Reader. Winners will be announced at the end of each month.
Challenge Guidelines:

  • If you blog, create a post announcing your participation in the challenge. Please include a link back to this post.
  • Non blogger must publish reviews on some type of public domain such as Goodreads, Shelfari, LibraryThing, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble to enter the monthly giveaway.
  • When you post your book review, you MUST say how you obtained the free read. Please make your source clear.
  • You can list your books in advance or list them as you read them.
  • Crossovers to other reading challenges is acceptable, but galley e-books DO NOT count. Again, this is a Reading Challenge to read as many of the FREE e-books legally offered for your e-reader. To get started, check out the Top 100 Free books on Amazon, or theFree e-books on Barnes & Noble
  • Any linked reviews that do not meet the guidelines will not be entered into the monthly drawing for the prize of the month. 
Coupon Clipper: 12 Books
Penny Pincher: 24 Books
Super Saver: 30+ Books 

So here I go, on my first (ever) reading challenge as a blogger. Heck, probably my first reading challenge *ever*-- unless you count the contest every year in grade school to read as many books as you could. I won the first one, and my mom wouldn't let me log all my books after that, because I could easily win them all and that just "wasn't fair." It was a bummer, the next challenge had better prizes, and all the teachers kept saying things like "Grace, you'd better get reading, Sarah's getting ahead of you!" I couldn't tell them "my mom won't let me tell you how many I read!" But I digress...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

REVIEW: "Van Gogh, Encore" by John A. Karr

What if... what if Vincent Van Gogh were alive today, in modern times? What if his life took a different turn, if he met someone he could love? What might be in store for him? Van Gogh is famous for his powerful works of art, and infamous for his mental health issues and resulting bizarre behavior. How would that play out in the context of today?

In this work of speculative fiction, John A. Karr portrays the last 18 months of Van Gogh's life in the United States, and presents possibilities of a different future for the troubled, but gifted, artist. Given a different setting and nationality (Van Gogh is Canadian in this book), and a blossoming love with a vivacious woman, Van Gogh gets another chance at life. The book stays true to many facts of Van Gogh's later life- his brother Theo's support, his relationship with Gauguin (including the knife threat and Van Gogh's plan to start an artists' colony), cutting his ear off and offering it to a prostitute, and his battle with mental illness and epilepsy. The author seamlessly and realistically weaves these facts into the new context, creating an engaging read.

At nearly twice the size of the average ebook, this was a page-turner. Descriptive and eloquent, this book  really allows you to feel what it might be like to be Van Gogh, to live inside his tormented mind as he attempts to make sense of contradictory stimuli. The author uses carefully selected words and phrasing to portray Van Gogh's thoughts in a way that really highlights his inner turmoil, as well as his artistic passion. The characters were nicely drawn, but the star of this story is really Vincent, whose character is well-established. With regards to other characters, I did find a little hard to believe the love Lynn obviously felt for Vincent. I could understand his attraction to her, but didn't really get why she was so attracted to him. His paintings were genius, but she obviously loved him for much more than that, and his obvious vulnerability didn't seem to me quite enough to explain that love.

This book could use one more editing pass to fix the last mistakes (not enough to be really frustrating, but enough to make note), but overall was engaging and satisfying. A recommended read for anyone who enjoys speculative fiction, or is a fan of Vincent Van Gogh's life and work.

4 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Friday, December 24, 2010

Follow Me Friday!

Ok, I'm so new to all of this stuff- followers, blogs, whatever! I have no idea if I'm doing it correctly or not, but thought I'd give it a go today! Check out Parajunkee for more information!

So, the question for today is: What are your plans for this fabulous day?

My plans? Well, I just finished making a Gingerbread Tree with my kids. They did all the assembly and decorating, and it's absolutely adorable! And nothing like the package ;) Other than that, it's a lot of fun and merriment and hopefully some food !

Leave me a comment, and let me know if you're now following my blog! Also, be sure to enter my giveaway for a free ebook! It's my first giveaway contest, so I'd love for you to participate!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

EXCERPT: "Becca's Best" by Jessica Barksdale Inclan

This is an excerpt from Jessica Barksdale Inclan's book "Becca's Best." If you like what you see in this excerpt, take the opportunity for your chance to WIN a FREE copy of your own! Enter the contest by simply posting a comment on this post, along with your email address. Read the full instructions here.

I will be reviewing the author's book "The Only Thing I See" in the coming weeks. Be on the lookout for that review!

Recipe: Nothing Yet
Do I actually have to tell you how to make this?

I look up at my marketing professor, Dr. Conklin, who stands in front of me for a moment as he walks the aisles. He notices my gaze, and I look down fast when he does. He’s got big brown eyes and a long hairy eyebrow, a forehead wrinkled in a reaction that can only mean something bad. I sneak a peak at him as he stares. He seems stuck in a movie role about a stereotyped professor, and in his delusion, thinks he still is that angry, young, slightly sexy man he was in the 1970’s, turtleneck, thick
mustache, and tweed. His Dockers make shiff shiff sounds as he walks between us, his slightly frayed jacket flapping out as he moves.

I know what he’s thinking. It’s not good. He adjusts his glasses, moves down the roll sheet with his eyes, walking between the rows of students. How could any thought he have of me be good? Clearly, I’m the oldest person in this class, a daytime graduate level course in market strategy. All the older students flock to the night classes because they have actual jobs and families and important things to do during the day. A life. Clearly, I don’t belong at all. Clearly, I have no life. I’ve quit the job I’ve had for five years in order to be here during the day. For almost a year, I pretended that I was scrimping and saving in order to have a few months’ worth of rent saved away while I began school. But I wasn’t going out to dinner or to the movies or taking trips anyway, so it was just about putting money in the bank.

So I have nothing important to keep me away from this one o’clock class. I don’t even look like the other
students, older, sort of dressed wrong, again, my denim skirt just flat out old. Old! The five years between us might as well be one hundred. I look like my mother, and, in fact, this is her skirt,
something I took out of the bag she had set aside for Goodwill. As I dug through her cast offs, I found this long swath of faded denim and imagined some kind of big, golden grained field, a girl running
through it, a man on the horizon calling to her, heading toward her.

Knowing that wouldn’t happen, I at least thought that it would look good with a long white shirt.


But here I am, 27, ugly skirt and all, in a group of 22 year olds, all of whom just graduated with B.S. or B.A. degrees and are sitting in this stuffy classroom, the afternoon light shining in a hard slant, the room almost floating with September heat.

“Diaz?” he calls. “Filippi? Graham?”

Everyone answers as they are called, and I wait, anxious. Anxious about the roster. Am I on it or not? Did I register in time? Did I make the cut? I thought I had the letter of acceptance from the program in my bag. I do. I know it. I put it there this morning just before leaving the house and jumping on the
N-Judah that would take me to San Francisco State. What will I do when I’m not on the roster? What is my problem? Why can’t I go anywhere and feel half as good as I do when I’m at home baking? I have skills, I have talents. I know I’m not as bad as I make myself out to be. But—but . . . .Should I sit tight until the end of class or run out? What is the best way? How will I explain my presence?

“Muchmore?” he calls, and I breathe out, shake my head, unable to answer. “Rebecca Muchmore?”

“Present,” I say. “Here. I’m here. Becca. I’m called Becca.”

The class stops for a second, a few people turning to look at me, none of them smiling.

“Is Muchmore your true moniker?” he asks. “Or some kind of surname affirmation? Some kind of desperate hope about the future to come? If anything in this strategy class sticks, it should be that ‘much more’ is what we aim for and ‘much more’ is what we don’t often receive. At least not without a lot of
hard work.”

I look down at my desk, touch the dirty veneer with my fingertips, years of business hopefuls’ pen marks
lining the fake wood. This is the question I’ve been asked all my life, or at least the part of my life where I could respond. I could have gone on about the Muchmore surname, traced back to
12th Century Cornwall. But he isn’t really interested in my answer but with the giggles in the classroom at his so clever question and even cleverer answer.

“It’s English,” I say, again, as I have so often, to so many people. “It’s—“

The professor adjusts his glasses again and then coughs.

“Pratchard? Sims? Smith?”

I exhale, sit back, feel the sweat under my arms. He can’t know how horrible it is to be named Muchmore and have ‘much less’ of what I want. I really don’t even know what I want and I know it isn’t very Zen of me, but what I imagine is much more than what I have.

The 22-year-olds smile, raise their hands, their piercings shining in the afternoon light. They sit back
comfortably, their low rise jeans almost showing me more than I need or want to know. I avert my eyes from one guy’s parenthesis of crack.

Two more years until I graduate. From this exact point, two more years. But now, all I want to do is go home. Now. Right now. Make some cookies. A big batch of snickerdoodles. Or brandy rings. Maybe bake a sugar loaf. Listen to Amy Winehouse sing about her life, which seems to be worse than mine even though she is talented, famous, skinny, and beautiful. Or I want to watch anything on television. Anything at all.

Meet the author in her great holiday video in which she bakes and chats about writing, love and ebooks!

REVIEW: "Few are Chosen" by MT McGuire

On K'Barth, the Nimmists are long gone- or long in hiding- and the Chosen One has yet to be found...or so it's thought. Lord Vernon is making plans to take charge of this world, and he will use any tools at his disposal to make sure his plan goes off without a hitch. The Pan is a blacklisted criminal who has managed to stay alive in spite of his lack of courage, or maybe because of it. He lives by his wits, and has survived far longer than expected, against all odds. When he gets trapped into using his skills for a mastermind criminal, his life takes some unexpected turns. He soon becomes a creature of intense interest from all sides of this movement, and he reluctantly becomes part of some of the most daring and adventuresome events of his age.

This is the kind of book I really shouldn't have liked- it's filled with odd new beings and some new terminology with magic thrown in; just the kind of fantasy that I normally pass by. I like the magical and otherworldly aspects, I just don't usually like various types of creatures together (even that bar scene in Star Wars bugged me as a kid). It just isn't my "thing." Well, perhaps I'm wrong, and this is my "thing," because I found I was turning pages as fast as I could. There were some lulls here and there, but for the most part, the plot moves along nicely, even though you're not sure exactly where it's headed.

The Pan is engaging and likable, surprisingly so. He's sympathetic and plucky all at once. Big Merv undergoes a nice transition in character, and his changes are realistic and fit well with the plot. The characterization in this book is, overall, nicely done and there wasn't a single character that didn't engage me in some way. The plot was intriguing; although a bit slow at times, it really picked up at the end. In fact, I was totally immersed in the action towards the end and was quite surprised to see the story suddenly end. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as it made me want to read the next book. If this weren't meant to be a trilogy, I'd feel left cold by the ending. This story did exactly what a first book in a series should do- answered some questions, and left others unanswered (hopefully to be major plot points of the next book).

MT McGuire has a very quirky writing style, and uses some interesting phrasing in this book. This style would have been frustrating in a different type of book. Rather than detract from this book, however, it seemed to fit this strange new world with its strange occupants. There were some typos, most notably with punctuation marks, but not so many as to totally distract from the engaging storyline. I wish I could have seen a bit more into the other world briefly introduced, and its connection to this world, but I suspect we'll learn much more in the next installment.

Overall, a surprisingly good read, and a fun escape!

4 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, December 19, 2010

REVIEW: "This Will Not Look Good on My Resume" by Jass Richards

Have you ever held a job? Maybe two, three, four, seventeen? Ever been fired from a job for speaking your piece? Or have you ever wished you could say whatever came to mind, no matter the consequence? If so, you'll love this chance to live vicariously through Brett Laramie as she plows her way through a series of jobs, leaving nothing unsaid, but many things undone. From teaching to waitressing, from manning a phone for a crisis hotline to applying to be a firefighter, she's done it all, seen it all, and said it all. And she takes us along for the ride!

Jass Richards, a comic writer, has created in Brett a strong-willed woman who alternates between ranting manifestos and (persistently) asking the questions we all want to ask. This book is like a roller coaster ride on a stream of consciousness. The writing style very much reflects a speaking style rather than a written narrative, which fits the characterization of the novel rather well. Each chapter reflects one (short-lived) job experience in Brett's wide variety of careers. Anyone who's ever had a job will easily relate to one or more of the experiences in this story. I certainly found a few that hit home for me. Brett easily says things we all wish we could say, and sometimes says things we wouldn't have ever thought to say. At times, this story had me laughing out loud as I recognized myself (or others), but at other times, the ranting went from lighthearted fun to serious missive, leaving me a little cold. There were some very pointed jabs at certain "institutions" (for lack of a better all-encompassing term), such as religion and misogynists. Hilarious at first, but got a little old and just plain bitter-sounding after a while. For the most part, the story flowed along quickly and somewhat hysterically, but some parts seemed more drawn-out, leaving me ready for a change in scenery. Luckily, I never had to wait long for a new chapter, and I was soon delving into a totally different experience.

Altogether, a funny, quirky read, good for anyone who is up for a quick escape into someone else's hilarious misery.

3 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Saturday, December 18, 2010

REVIEW: "The Tempest" by Holly Hook

Janelle, a normal teenager who has just made a move from Michigan to Florida with her dad, realizes something's not quite right the day her dad wants to stay in the path of the hurricane to watch its power instead of flee to safety. With the help of a police escort and a mandatory evacuation, they make it to safety just in time ... just in time, that is, to see a boy come out of the eye of the hurricane. Janelle's initial shock and confusion turn to anger and fear as she realizes there is more, much more, that she hasn't been told about her life. Now Janelle must come to terms with who- and what- she is, and figure out how to fulfill her destiny on her own terms.

Engaging throughout and geared towards a young adult readership, this book is the first in the Destroyer series by Holly Hook (be sure to check out her blog spotlighting other ebook bargains). The storyline and pacing of the book are reminiscent of Rick Riordan's Olympians series with Percy Jackson, but with a unique concept that is ultimately satisfying in much the same way. From the initial scene with the hurricane bearing down on Janelle and her dad, this story pulls you right along through to the surprising conclusion. Creative and entertaining, this book is good fun from start to finish.

The writing style is simplistic, using language and phrasing that will appeal to younger audiences. If this were a book targeting adults, my rating would reflect this simplistic writing style. Instead, I chose to rate this with regards to the intended audience. The lack of sophistication expected for an adult tale is completely appropriate in this story meant for younger audiences, and the book will likely appeal to a much wider audience. I hope the next book in the series will develop the characters a bit more to add a little more depth and authenticity to their personalities and relationships.

Overall, a fun and engaging read with an original storyline.

4 /5 stars

Available on Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, December 17, 2010

REVIEW: "Triune" by Willow Polson

A celebration for a brother coming home from war, an incident on a plane with surprising consequences, an unfurling of identity and knowledge, and the Mason brothers discover a new dimension to their joint existence. As a team, they are unstoppable; a powerful force. Separated, they are simply not whole. Unfortunately, these changes don't come with an instruction manual, and the brothers must band together to explore the purpose and meaning behind this major event.

In "Triune," Willow Polson has taken the age-old concept of "angels among us" and offered a bit of a twist. We may have all learned about angels who sit in their heavenly clouds, playing harps and greeting newly passed souls. But angels on Earth, living as humans? This concept has been explored in a few places, but none in quite this fashion. This story is engaging and an easy, fun read with several surprises in store. The storyline is captivating enough to maintain interest the entire way through, and I found myself trying to discover the secrets even as the brothers did the same.

Although I really enjoyed the overall storyline, I felt it sort of meandered along, even-keeled, without any real high or low points. It seemed a pleasant, "vanilla" ride, and I soon realized there really wasn't any major points of conflict. Ends very neatly tied together, characters were never in angst for more than a paragraph or so. I like a little more spice and zest mixed in. I want to feel anxious as the characters really struggle, so that I can feel relief as the conflict is resolved, or righteous anger if it's not.

I found the brothers engaging and interesting, but I would have liked some more background about their relationship before Mike experienced his life-changing event. More background would have enabled me to better appreciate the changes in their resulting relationship. There are a few hints, but I didn't get a real feel for what they were like before. I felt the characters were interesting, but not really well-developed, adding to that pleasant "vanilla" feeling. I was still able to enjoy the story, but I wasn't fully immersed in the adventure.

All in all, an interesting story, worth a read. The abrupt ending hints at something else to come, so there may yet be more to this story....

3.5 /5 stars

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

PHOTOS: Road Trip!

Views from a moving car, on the highways of B.C., Canada. We were going 50-60 miles per hour at the time. I was the passenger :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

REVIEW: "Tag" (Book One: The Zumar Chronicles) by Simon Royle

Life is irrevocably changed for Arbitrator Jonah Oliver the day he's called in to work with a mysterious runner, Jibril Muraz, who seems to have no past, and an amazing ability to avoid the potency of the truth treatment. Jonah is not sure why this strange and alien being is asking specifically for Jonah's services, and things become even less clear when a telepathic message is received directly from Jibril that hints at secrets and betrayal. With little explanation, and much confusion, Jonah is thrown into a race against the clock to stop a terrible plot designed to eliminate two-thirds of the population. All the odds are stacked against him, and he soon finds that his past is not what he thought it was, and his future is even more uncertain.

In his first novel, Simon Royle has managed to create a riveting thriller that kept me up much past my bedtime. From the first chapter, I was engaged and eager to discover the secrets of Jonah's life as they unfolded. The book is set a century in the future, and the world looks much as we may expect; it is different, but somehow exactly the same. In line with the human tendency to shorten words of common objects (think net for internet, phone for telephone, TV for television), some of the important terms of this century include, amongst other terms, dev (device), trav (travel), and cred (credit- monetary units earned by "contributions"). Although common travel has extended to the moon and the world is now united, at least in theory, the people and the experiences are recognizable and definitely feasible. The idea of "tagging" humans with their identity numbers is perhaps not even as far in the future as the timeline chosen for this book. This fictional reality is extremely realistic, and the implications of such a future really demand to be considered.

The characters in this book were interesting and decently developed for a thriller. I may have enjoyed some additional development when it came to some of the relationships, particularly between Jonah and Mariko, to really understand their connections. In a fast-paced storyline like this, however, it really is more secondary to the action, and the action was well done. The writing style was very engaging and readable. I really didn't find myself rewriting any passages in my head, and that's always a good thing! The plot was well-paced, and it really compelled me to read the whole way through, especially as I began the last half of the book. The book switches from first person (when Jonah is present) to third person (when we're with everyone else), and it made me do a quick double take once in a while, but that is probably my fault, as I have a tendency not to read chapter headings, and that is where the time, place, and characters were clearly spelled out.

I really enjoyed this thrill ride, and had only a few piddly issues. One was that there were fewer commas in this book than I am used to. It may be attributable to writing style, but commas around clauses and the names of those addressed in speech really help me to interpret the prose appropriately. The author definitely included commas, and those used were certainly used appropriately, but I felt there were some missing. It didn't create any real issues with readability, but as I "read" in my head, it didn't force me to pause in places I normally would have paused. Additionally, as I read this book, I kept waiting for the twist that changed a good guy to a bad guy, or some major event that really turned the tables on what I thought and made me gasp "oh my gosh!" That moment never came. It wasn't necessary for a successful story, it just has the effect of adding to the suspense and excitement of a storyline such as this.

4.5 /5 stars

Available at Smashwords and Amazon

Friday, December 10, 2010

REVIEW: "The Advent of Lena" by Neil M. Campbell

Park is a real ladies man; handsome and confident, he can have his pick of many women, and often does. Unfortunately, his cold heart doesn't match his handsome outside. Chloe is kind with a indomitable character, and her friends are fiercely loyal. Unfortunately, her outsides don't match her insides, and her visage often attracts stares of repugnance and disgust. After his careless comment sparks a reaction that snaps Park to awareness, he latches on to the idea that his redemption lies within Chloe if she'll just agree to be with him. Initially dismissive of his attempts, her curiosity eventually gets the best of her, and the two embark upon a relationship founded on Park's need for absolution. Their bond vacillates between complete betrayal and utter joy. How important are looks and how important is character? Is love and happiness at the end for these two seemingly mismatched individuals, or will Park once again destroy all that's beautiful?

In the foreword, Neil Campbell states that this book was inspired by a reaction to a comment he offhandedly made one day in a tavern. This tale is, perhaps, his own form of redemption, as he uses this opportunity to retell the ending to his own story. He has taken the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast, reversed the characters, and modernized the tale to fit today's times. It's a clever twist on an age-old tale, with added depth and additional characters helping to create a complex and compelling story.

Not just the tale of a man and his quest for redemption, "The Advent of Lena" is also the story of several people searching for their own happy endings. In the journey for his own redemption, Park struggles to find his balance. Can he look beyond the outside to find the beauty within? Can he convince everyone his motives are true? You want to root for him, yet at the same time you hate him for the choices he's made and those he continues to make. You admire Chloe's strengths while pitying her lot in life. With such a huge strike against her from the beginning, where does she find the resilience to go on? Where does Julia's redemption lie? Is her faith enough to protect her from herself? Will Eddie ever find whatever it is he's looking for? His sacrifices may not be equal to his rewards. And then there is Miriam; pretty on the outside, but emotionally empty inside, she seeks to fill the void by making choices born of jealousy and insecurity. The characters created are compelling and complex, and their stories fascinating, but I found their distinguishing characteristics to be limited to their descriptions and their actions. I found their conversations to add less to the character development and to be somewhat one-dimensional at times.

The author's writing style is unique, and there were several occasions I had to reread sentences in order to understand the point, as the cadence and phrasing seemed awkward. The story meanders around, sometimes making me wonder who the story was really about. It seemed meant to tell the tale of Park and his search for redemption, but at times the stories of the other characters took center stage. I found myself wanting Park to win Chloe's love, while at the same time wanting him to suffer for his cruel treatment of the women in his life. We are able to see the good and the bad in the personality of each character, making for more complete character development. There were times, however, when I was confused or surprised by a character's reaction to a plot point; I reread some passages wondering why the character reacted in a way that was different than I expected, or made a jump in understanding that I didn't follow.

On the technical side, there were a few errors in the book, although not so much as to detract. I also noticed frequent (but minor) front size changes in my .epub. I'm not sure if it would be present on other copies, but it was definitely in mine (on both the computer and my sony). There were also random question marks throughout many of the paragraphs. I realized they were in places where a dash or semi-colon might normally be located. I got used to it, but it was somewhat distracting to see questions marks pop up in the middle of sentences.

The concept was original and the characters engaging. I think this modern take on the age-old story was a unique and thought-provoking read. How much does outer beauty impact your choices?

3.5 /5 stars

Available at Amazon.

update: The author has informed me that he sees the issue I noted with the question marks in the .epub version, and has pulled the book from Smashwords while he works out the kinks! The book is available on Amazon, with no formatting troubles :)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

PHOTOS: A Visit to the Seattle Aquarium

It's amazing the pictures you can take through glass. Again, my disclaimer- photographing animals really isn't a strength for me, if I have any strengths in photography (which is doubtful, but, hey, it's my blog, isn't it? :D)

Monday, December 06, 2010

REVIEW: "Pink Noise" by Leonid Korogodski

Nathi is posthuman, having given up his body five centuries ago. He is now one of the most talented brain doctors around, entering into the (un)consciousness of injured brains to help repair the damage. Nathi can hardly remember any other reality, although he did have a life even before his posthuman existence began. But Nathi is in for a shock when he comes to the aid of a comatose girl. As he attempts to aid her awareness, he is startled to realize it's really an epic awakening for himself, and as he delves deeper into her brain and discovers the surprises in store, his real adventure begins.  

Leonid Korogodski, a PhD in Mathematics, has explored some fascinating science to create the premise of this short novel. A extensive summation of his research is included in the "Notes and References" section of the book. It's awe-inspiring and somewhat terrifying to think of a future where these things are not only possible, but a normal part of human- and posthuman- existence. 

This book was a whirlwind adventure. There was something fluid and hypnotic about the phrasing in this story, making me feel very much like a futuristic Alice who had just fallen down the rabbit hole into a whole new world. Every time I thought I might have gotten a grip on reality, a new surprise threw me, once again, into another conversation with the Mad Hatter, making me question my own understanding of reality.  The possibilities involved in pairing one brain with the brain of another, of having an reality that doesn't require a body, of experiencing a life without the boundaries to which we are accustomed.... those possibilities were staggering and eye-opening.  

This book is illustrated by Borislav Varadinov, a finalist in the AntiMotion: FUTR WRLD digital art contest. While the visuals were thought-provoking, it was distracting to me to have them included in the book. The placement of the pictures created some unexpected page breaks in my digital version of the book, which led to a bit of confusion on my part. There were a few times I thought the chapter had ended abruptly because the words stopped two-thirds of the way down the page at the end of a paragraph, but the chapter actually continued on the next page, after an inserted picture. I may have enjoyed the pictures more as a collection of images in the middle (or at the end) of the book. 

Altogether, a fascinating concept and hypnotic language make this book a mesmerizing ride through a future that may one day become ours. Although it's a short book, there are a lot of ideas to take in all at once, and you may find yourself thinking about the implications long after you've turned the final page. 

4 /5 stars

Available on Amazon.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

REVIEW: "Freak City" by Tom Lichtenberg

Argus is in a dead-end job, with a crappy living situation and an uneventful life. He is largely absent from the world, choosing not to interact with his many roommates, and having little experience with quality human interaction. That is, this is Argus' life until now. A mysterious encounter with a stranger leaves Argus with a strange box filled with seemingly unrelated artifacts. He doesn't know what it all means, and, with an absent family and no real friends, he doesn't have anyone to ask. When one of his roommates reaches out to him in kindness one night and notices the odd collection, the roommates set out on an adventure to discover the meaning behind the mystery.

Tom Lichtenberg has written a short novel that is both appealing and spellbinding as you discover clues right along with Argus. The desire to figure out the meaning behind the box of items keeps you reading until the end. That ending, however, felt somewhat abrupt and rushed, and was a bit of a disappointment after the path of discoveries. It is hinted that this experience has left Argus changed, and I would have liked a little more information about that change and what impact it might have. I wanted to know more about what happened to the other characters at the end as well. I wanted a little more, and I would be interested in further stories in this same vein.

The writing style is unique, but well-suited to this type of unconventional story. The character of Argus is fairly well-developed. He is a very insular man who has very few authentic interactions with others, preferring to spend endless hours alone with his own thoughts. There is just enough information given to make you wonder more about Argus' family, as well as his experiences with others growing up. Some of this backstory may well be included in "Snapdragon Alley," a prequel of sorts to this book, where Argus' older brother holds center stage. I also want to know much more about the character of Fulsom. How did he end up needing to be "in charge" of the situation presented at the end?

Overall, an engaging, enjoyable read that may benefit from a little more development in the ending. It also could use one last thorough editing pass, as there were several small errors noted in the book (including "lock" instead of "luck" and calling the store "Pay'n'Pay" before next calling it "Pay'n'Save.").

3 /5 stars

Available FREE on Smashwords (in a variety of formats) and Barnes & Noble, or support this author by buying a copy from Amazon

REVIEW: "The Storyteller" by Sharon Tillotson

"Sarah" is a Soul who's been through many incarnations in many different times. Currently, she's trying to help guide Suzy, a modern-day widow with a business of her own and a seeming inability to move past her losses, on her path of rediscovery. While we watch Suzy traveling her path, Sarah recounts for us some of her past incarnations and subsequent lessons learned. Sarah is a Storyteller, and most of her incarnations have utilized that gift. Suzy, however, is yet to discover who she is and what her main purpose may be.

Sharon Tillotson, a life-long intuitive and seeker, was guided to craft this book to share this story. Several stories describing Sarah's past lives are interspersed throughout Suzy's journey of discovery, loosely tied together by Sarah's own "thoughts" on the issues. As I was first reading, I found myself wishing it had been a collection of short stories, "soul" stories, perhaps introduced by Sarah's thoughts about each one. Although it all pulls together into a cohesive piece, the stories of the various incarnations are long enough that it reads a bit more like a collection rather than a novel. Essentially, though, it is a collection, but with Suzy's story interwoven into the mix. As I continued reading, I began to enjoy more the format of the book. Some of the stories were much more engaging to me than others. It wasn't a book I devoured, eager to finish, it was a book I tasted in sips (hence my relatively long- for me- read time). Some of the sips were very satisfying and thought-provoking, others, not so much. For me, the book dragged a bit in places, even though none of the sections was particularly uninteresting. It was like a languid journey across a varied landscape, with some scenery more enjoyable than others. I felt like it took a while to get going and to get me engaged in the story, but as I settled down and began to enjoy the ride, it became more about the journey; Suzy's journey as well as, perhaps, my own.

As Suzy discovers (or rediscovers or reinvents or remembers) herself, many transcendental ideas are explored and grown. Some of the ideas were thought-provoking, and some seemed a bit tired. I did really like the concept of shining a flashlight; that there were no evil ideas, just darkness that needed a little extra light focused on it to be understood and explored. We can choose to shine that flashlight wherever our own personal darkness lies. I think Suzy's story dragged on in places, but that can be said to highlight her own struggle of rediscovery. Life doesn't always move quickly, at times it drags, and this book reflects that.

Altogether, an interesting read if you're in the mood for something thoughtful and unhurried. It's a bit difficult for me to rate with stars; I wasn't really immersed or engaged throughout, but it was fairly thought-provoking and interesting. The story is really designed for the reader to be a spectator rather than a participant and observe Suzy's journey and the journey of the Soul called Sarah. The participation comes as you reflect upon what it all means for you, if you choose to do so. Your rating will vary, but for me, it's a:

3 /5 stars

Available on Amazon

Thursday, December 02, 2010

PHOTOS: A Few Visits to a Few Different Zoos

Animal pictures aren't my usual fare, but thought I'd throw some in. These are pictures taken over the past year from a few different zoos. I like the "animals in action!" (Click to enlarge)