Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: The Amber Ring by A.L. Walton

If you have been following my journey through the lower echelon of the Kindle store, the review today is for the best book I've read so far . . . and it's free!  Here is my review of The Amber Ring by A.L. Walton:

What I Thought
Once I had adjusted to the setting (modern day when, for some reason I had assumed it was medieval-ish), I thoroughly enjoyed this novella.  It tells the story of Maya, a girl whose twin sister was the hero of a fairy tale land, but, after her adventure was over, accidentally drowned.  I really don't want to discuss more of the plot so as to not give away any of the twists and turns the story takes, but suffice it to say, many of them took me off guard (in a good way).

The book is well written and the characters, especially Maya and Camden, are well fleshed out.  The supporting cast is a mix of tropes and subverted tropes that are used to great affect in creating a vibrant world for the main characters to navigate.  Most importantly of all, the fantasy elements are constructed in a way that makes sense.  I didn't once find myself thinking "wait, if that could happen, why couldn't this happen?"  It's fantastical, but it follows its own logic and the fewer questions I have that distract from the narrative the better.

Should You Buy It?
Buy this book.  It's free, it's relatively short (though not too short as to be unsatisfying), and it's a good read.  The only complaint I have is that the author hasn't written any other books yet.  When he does, I'll read them.

If anyone follows my advice and ends up reading this book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.  Post them in the comments or hit me up on twitter @LukeAndreen

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: The Unwilling Adventurer by Heidi Willard

Another book review today!  This is the first book of the Unwilling series which consists of three books.  This first book was listed at $0.00, the next were $2.99 each.  Without further ado, here is my review of book #1, The Unwilling Adventurer by Heidi Willard.

What I Thought
This is the story of a wizard (called a "castor"), a young warrior teen girl and a farm boy who go off on an adventure together.  There were grammatical errors that I noticed right off the bat which, while it doesn't necessarily mean the story won't be a good one, does make it a bit tougher to read.  Another thing that sort of bumped me early on was that two of the main characters had very similar names (Fred and Ned).  This isn't a big deal in and of itself, but it does diminish a joke early on that would have been funnier had there been a greater disparity between the two.  The story itself is relatively solid.  The fantasy creatures are not typical fare which is refreshing, though in one or two cases this may have been the author just renaming something that already exists the way she called magic users "castors" and then describes a stereotypical wizard.  This can be distracting in the fantasy genre and, while this book certainly isn't the worst offender, it is mostly unnecessary.  Either invent your own creature (which she does, as I mentioned) or make use of the shorthand that exists.

The main characters themselves, especially Pat, the teenage girl knight, were a little off putting.  I single out Pat because her personality became grating.  A cantankerous character is fine, but there are many points in the story where it seemed her character was going to take a turn for the positive, but went right back to being mean for no real reason.  Also, the character of Ned is overly described as mischievous, many times when a joke would have worked better if played straight.  Ned was almost too silly a character for the role he needed to play in the story.

There were many elements to the story that were well thought out.  I liked the idea of Fred's staff, the assassin character has a lot of promise and the uncomfortable chair was an unusual (in a good way) turn on the "hero selected by magical object" trope.  The book moved at a good pace and set up many things that, presumably, will pay off in subsequent books.  I saw some other reviewers complaining that the book ends on a cliff hanger, but I didn't feel it was cliff hanger as much as a natural break in the narrative.

The final thing that bugged me was some repetition I noticed.  Again, nothing too terrible, but it did distract from the story.  There was one chapter where two characters were referred to by the term "old friends" in what felt like every other paragraph.  Also, one character places his hand on a awful lot of shoulders.

Should You Read It?
There's a good story here, but there were quite a few things that hindered my enjoyment of it, the most of which was the unpleasantness of Pat which went on for far too long.  The book was about what I expected with a few surprises and a few disappointments, working out to about even as to whether or not I would recommend it.   If you are a fantasy fan and are looking for an interesting story that pokes and prods at genre conventions, this one will do.  If you don't like fantasy, this probably won't convert you.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: Transcripts From the Other Side by David Kutai Weiss

Here is another book I read this week.  The Amazon description was what got me.  It sounded interesting and the book was free, so I bit the hook.

What I Thought
Transcripts From the Other Side by David Kutai Weiss is a very short story (I think I read the whole thing in about 20-30min) and is the first part of a planned trilogy (only the second has been published as I write this).  It chronicles the journey of Bill who has just died and now will finally find out what awaits him in the after life.  There are a few clever things in the story, but this feels more like a draft than a finished work.  Aside from some grammar issues, the pace of the story is almost too quick.  Every interaction that Bill has as he discovers more and more about the after life is just too short to be satisfying.  Also, some of the ideas are just plain silly and (minor spoiler ahead) is anyone else tired of being told that dogs are really the most important species on earth?  That joke wasn't funny to me the first time I heard it.

Should You Read It?
Well, it's free, so it has that going for it. It's also short so if you don't like it, you don't have to dislike it for long.  I wouldn't say that reading it was a waste of time, but I don't think I'll read the next book.  This has potential as an outline for a longer, better paced story.  As is, you could do worse but there are better books in the free category.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: The Dark Lord's Handbook by Paul Dale (UPDATE)

As I ramp up to releasing my first novel, I thought it would be a good idea to see what else was out there in the fantasy genre.  In part, this was to size up the competition, but also, to gain inspiration or, in some cases, to get ideas about what NOT to do.  As I do this, I will leave short reviews here of the different books I come across.  These will all be ebooks from Amazon, mostly free, though today's entry set me back a whopping $2.99 (likely the price of my own book when it releases).

Without further ado, here is my review of The Dark Lord's Handbook by Paul Dale.

What I Thought

After I got through my initial disappointment of this not actually being the handbook itself but rather a story about someone else reading the handbook, I was along for the ride. It tells the tale of a fledgling dark lord, Morden, who receives the titular handbook and uses its lessons to Rise and begin to take over the world.
This is a clever premise and the author turns many common fantasy tropes on their heads, which I appreciate, telling a fairly compelling story along the way. I liked (or at least was interested in) almost all of the characters and was surprised by a few twists the story took. In fact, for most of my reading session, I wasn't sure exactly where everything was headed, which for the fantasy genre, is always a good thing.
There were a few grammatical quibbles that another pass by an editor could fix, but nothing that detracted too much from the experience. The main problem I had was with a few of the jokes that fell flat for me. One that stands out in particular is (minor spoiler ahead) when the orcs sack a town, they hang the guards up by their underwear, using a technique that the orcs referred to as "the wedgie". I know this is supposed to be comedic, but the best comedy in the book is the jokes that arise from the situation, not anachronistic humor. There are a few other examples throughout (the subject of "lawyers" was a bit nonsensical to me as well) and in some places, the book delves into other subjects (mortgage backed securities) that don't really mesh well with the setting (I had braced myself for a tirade about sub-prime lending that, thankfully, never appeared). It could have worked if the author was a bit sneakier about it, but it felt heavy handed to me, along with some of the other talk about the middle class. That being said, I still was able to read through the book quickly and was anxious to find out what happened to the main characters.
Should You Read It?
Do you have $3?  Do you want to read an enjoyable fantasy novel?  This one will fit the bill.  The negatives I listed are far outweighed by the positives.  I would recommend it if you are at all intrigued by the premise.  As of this writing, this is the author's only novel.  I hope it isn't his last.  I'd like to hear what happens next to all these characters.

(UPDATE 7/21)
The box art has been substantially improved.  You can't judge a book by it's cover, but, if you could, this would add another half star!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Padres PA Audition

The audio quality is bad, but here I am auditioning over the PA at Petco Park