Reviews

“Sisters” — A short romp through history

 

If you are looking for a short read, I highly recommend that you head over to Amazon quickly! Rachelle M.N. Shaw’s latest short story is free, and as my dad says (and he always does say it), nothing is better than free. To top it off, it’s a quality character-driven piece that focuses on the relationship of two sisters. I don’t want to say too much; however, those with siblings will likely relate to the challenges of growing up together and the morphing of the blood ties that always tie you to each other.

The free deal will be running through until tomorrow at midnight — so don’t turn into a pumpkin by passing up on this opportunity! And for those who use GoodReads (I don’t use it half as much as I should), you can reach the book via the following link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35219698-sisters.

Advertisements
Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Check Out ‘The Ballerina’s Gift’

"The Ballerina's Gift" by Rachelle M. N. Shaw cover

“The Ballerina’s Gift” by Rachelle M. N. Shaw

If you love paranormal fiction with a horror edge, be sure to get a copy of The Ballerina’s Gift by Rachelle M.N. Shaw, which was recently released electronically via Amazon. It is the second story in The Porcelain Souls series; however, readers can download the first short story in the series, The Eyes That Moved, for free (also available at Smashwords)! And let me say, if you have ever found porcelain dolls to be creepy, your skin is about to crawl. I don’t want to say too much  so  as not to spoil anything; however, Rachelle has crafted an exceedingly fun story with interesting characters while building in elements of horror, the paranormal, and suspense — and I’m not just saying that because I am her friend and editor.

The Ballerina’s Gift is novella length and has a larger cast of characters than its predecessor, though not to the point of being overwhelming. Marley — the lead — is relateable, particularly for those who remember teenage drama and nastiness, and likable. Another character that draws attention is Huili, who I can’t wait to see more of in the future.

The story itself follows Marley as she attempts to inch her way up the social ladder by hosting a party while her parentals are away. Throw in her long-time crush, her nemesis, a whirlwind of rumors, and the supposedly haunted Whitson house and things are bound to spiral out of control. More may be at stake than Marley’s reputation.

To learn more about the novella, The Porcelain Souls series, and Rachelle, visit her website at http://rachellemnshaw.com/porcelainsouls/.

Categories: Books, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Need of a Fun Read? Give ‘The Wizard’s Gambit’ a Read

The Wizard's Gambit

The Wizard’s Gambit by Kylie Betzner

I may be a little biased — having had a window-of-sorts to see this novel grow into its finished product and being friends with the writer — but I think I can safely say many readers will find “The Wizard’s Gambit” to be a hilarious, enjoyable read, plus it has Littlehammer in it!

With feuding kingdoms — they’ve been, in some cases literally, carrying axes against each other for 1,001 years — terrorizing the land, Wizard White Beard comes up with a hare-brain idea to bring everyone together: a harmless scavenger hunt. But when war has become first nature, the friendly scavenger hunt quickly morphs into something that resembles The Hunger Games. During it, misfits are brought — sometimes kicking and screaming — under the mantel of Mongrel who genuinely wants heal the wounds between the kingdom and find the wizard’s hidden trinket to win the competition.

The characters that populate this novel, truly make it worth the read. There are many common fantasy races, including ogres, elves, and dwarves; however, there is also a diverse human cast that is not just limited to those of Western Europe origin. They each come to the table with their own goals and quirks.

The main cast will provide a favorite character for any reader. Whether it is simple Mongrel who is eventually forced to remove his rosy sunglasses; feisty and completely adorable Littlehammer; the ogre of few words and lover of birds, Grrargh; Tikaani who must face her fear, which threatens to overwhelm her; and so on, there will be someone to relate to. Personally, I adore Littlehammer: her practicality, accent, and right amount of distrust and cynicism (plus a slight violent streak) wormed its way into my heart. But I have to also give a shout out to Empress Eiko who is one badass senior citizen.

The Wizard’s Gambit pokes fun at several fantasy tropes in a loving manner, resembling in someways Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Featuring clever dialogue, hilarious scenarios, and tight prose, it will keep you entertained.

So if you are a fan of the genre and are in need of a good laugh, this book is the one for you. The Wizard’s Gambit can be purchased on Amazon, in either digital format or print. It is also available at Barnes & Noble. Also be sure to visit Kylie’s blog.

Categories: Books, Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Final thoughts on Evernote

evernote_ipad_wallpaperPreviously, I had given a brief overview of Evernote and what it offers at a time when I was just playing around with it, promising to delve more into my experiences after I got serious with the program. That day has come, and I just have to say: I’m in love. Evernote is not just a lifesaver, but a time saver, particularly when you work on multiple devices. Though I have not used the software for this purpose, I can also see it being incredibly useful for collaborative purposes — and while I would love to test it (I am interested in giving co-authorship a try), I don’t foresee the opportunity arising anytime soon, but I am interested in hearing others’ experiences on using Evernote for this purpose.

Continue reading

Categories: Apps, Reviews, Software | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Quest for the Holy Something or Other

indexToday I’m sharing a dear friend’s recently published book — one of which I have had the privilege of being able to witness a small portion of its growth to its current state.

Available in both paperback and ebook via Amazon and other booksellers, “The Quest for the Holy Something or Other” is a humorous read that follows the antics of the ever-innocent/rose-tinted-glasses-wearing Pig and her reluctant knight, Sir Kay, as they hunt for the Holy Bread Box. If you enjoy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” you will love this comedic parody of King Arthur’s court as they fight themselves and the inevitable march of … change.

Perhaps one of the most endearing aspects of this novel for me is the characters, which are all memorable and one-of-a-kind — a true feat in the expansive realm of Arthurian legend. My favorite is perhaps Kylie’s Lancelot, because what can I say, I’m a sucker for antagonists. Merlin is also a personal favorite of mine, and you just can’t bring yourself to not like Pig (if you don’t, it’s akin to kicking a puppy).

“Quest” is also a quick read, in the manner, that it encourages you to keep flipping pages in order to see what befalls our heroes next, or to see what other antics Lancelot and the rest of the FCC try to pull. The book various comedic scenes — some featuring the most delightful, absurd sequence of events — during which Kylie is truly displaying her sense of humor, and I know it had me chuckling out loud to myself on several occasions. It is definitely worth a read.

I’ve included the full summary below:

Enter the Realm of Camelot, home of famous legends: King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Merlin—but this isn’t their story. Meet Pig, a humble gong farmer who dreams of the glories of Camelot. Her dreams become reality–or so she thinks–when she becomes Sir Kay’s page. What starts off as a joke soon becomes the adventure of Pig’s life when Merlin sends the knights on a quest for the Holy Gift Box–er–Bread Basket–whatever it is! On their quest, they face many knight-worthy, and some not-so-knight-worthy, foes: an insane pond dweller, several greedy salespeople, and an overzealous cache seeker, all the while fighting against time, mostly each other, and the most infamous villain of all—change. The Quest for the Holy Something or Other is a fresh and funny take on a well-known legend, with engaging characters, some rather good jokes, and something that starts with S, but it isn’t important.

Bonus: The Cats Review …

When I brought Kylie’s book home, the cats displayed great deal of interest in it. They each had pretty unique thoughts on the book.

Tatiana, my calico, thought it smelled very interesting, worth a 1 or so sniff — impressive for an easily distracted cat.

Jazzlyn, the tiger-striped calico, concurred with Tatiana that it had a unique, pleasant smell.

Marinus, the grey and white tabby, thought after two licks that it tasted funky, albeit in a good way.

Ichabod, the leopard-spotted tabby, paid it no heed.

10968415_10104652358533138_1587816498926279426_n

Hrmm… dis smell interesting. Iz eatz itz?

So purchase this book for a read that will have you in stitches, or purchase it for your cats — three out of four cats can’t be wrong! Either way, you will not regret having this book on your bookshelf.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

App Review: Google Keep

google-keep_thumb[2]

Let Google Keep take care of your notes, photos and provide a method of creating lists and checking off tasks.

I was recently forced to get a new phone after my old phone decided it could no longer make or take calls. On the old phone, I used Astrid Tasks, but since it’s now defunct, I couldn’t download it onto my new one. While looking through the preloaded apps on my android phone, I came across Google Keep and decided to launch it. I was greeted by a series of example posted notes, including one that contained a checklist. I figured, oh why not.

So here I am testing it out and really enjoying it for what it is. It is very much Google’s version of Evernote; I’d call it Evernote lite. It’s good for jotting down quick notes, checklists, voice-recorded notes and photos. It lacks many of the perks of Evernote, which include utilizing a web clipper, creating different notebooks, organizing things via tags and so much more. But even so, it is a fine app for what it is.

I can see myself utilizing it at work to jot down quick writing ideas that pop into my head. I could also use it to scribble down to-do lists or my grocery list. It lacks a lot of the features that the Evernote Android app has, but for me that is a bit of a perk. It’s quicker to jot down the little things for Keep since there are less bonuses to wade through. However, Keep will not be replacing Evernote in my writing arsenal. Evernote will continue to be reserved for in-depth notes, research and book development — at least, the electronic variety since my old-fashioned notebooks usually get the bulk of my notes. Nothing beats the feeling of a pen and paper.

wpid-screenshot_2014-10-03-20-23-16.png

A screenshot of my Keep notes.

As I’ve mentioned, Keep is very lean, and its interface is very simple. You simply click one of four options: the note button, the checklist button, the voice recorder or the photo button (which in return gives you the option to take a photo or to pull one from the photos on your phone). From there you can give your note a title and then jump to the body. You also have the option to give notes different colors, giving users the change to color-coordinate them. As can be seen by screenshot, I just picked whatever colors I wanted to without really giving thought to coordination.

If you are interested in Keep for the purpose of creating checklists and to-do lists, there is a reminder feature that will keep you on track to succeed at whatever deadlines you give yourself. Of course, you don’t have to use the checklist note to use the reminder feature. You can set it on any type of note.

So what do you do if you need to clear up space in your notes? Well, you don’t have the option to create additional notebooks, so instead you have two choice: You can archive completed notes in case you need them in the future, or you can delete them, sending them to Davy Jones’ locker, as it were.

So is it worth the download? That really depends on you and if you have use for it. If you use Evernote, Keep is going to fall short. It just lacks too many useful features that Evernote has in abundance. However, if you need something more simple or quicker to work than Evernote, this app just might be for you — especially if you are just looking for a checklist for your grocery shopping needs.

Besides using the Android app (Keep is probably also on iTunes, but since I have no Apple products, I’m not certain if it is), Keep can be accessed using your Web browser and Google account, much like Google Docs, etc.

 

Categories: Apps, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s here! My copy of the ‘2015 Writer’s Market’

BxH6a98CUAEu7GX.jpg large

Was very happy to see it before falling promptly ill.

Last week I was excited to receive my copy of the “2015 Writer’s Market: Deluxe Edition,” though a bit peeved that after I ordered it — talking within a couple of days — they proceeded to drop the price by $9. But that’s just my luck: I have none. At least, this year I got my copy. Last year, you see, I had ordered one, but after a week or two, the vendor canceled the order, and I never got around to getting another one since at that time I figured just wait for 2015. So here it is!

I will admit that I have not had much time to go through it yet; I became pretty sick after receiving it, plus work has been beyond hectic since we are severely understaffed at the moment (let’s say, shit hit the fan really good). But I’ve taken the time to really thumb through it today, and eventually, as I use it more, I will post a full book review that includes my experiences using WritersMarket.com; hopefully answering the question: Is it worth purchasing the Deluxe Edition to get free access to this website? Continue reading

Categories: Books | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: Ender’s Game

A fast read

Card spins an interesting take on an alternative Earth that in the end holds a mirror to humanity; the reflection not entirely flattering, but perhaps very accurate.

A long, long time ago in a not so distant galaxy, I was a very avid reader. I would constantly have a book in hand, whether fiction or nonfiction. However, at some point in my adult life I drifted away. Looking back it might have been the binge reading required texts in college, or maybe it was my busy schedule since started at my current career — who knows. But recently, I’ve made the conscious decision to reverse this tide: Writers have to read after all. In particular, I decided to read more SciFi novels, starting first with the classic “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.

I hadn’t seen the recently released film version, nor did I actual know much about “Ender’s Game” beyond the hype of the movie. But while browsing through the selection of SciFi and Fantasy novels at my local library, I decided to give it a chance. And I can’t say I was disappointed, albeit I did have some frustrations with the book.

Enter the Review

Card is a talented, easy-to-read writer, and the book just flowed for me, leading to long evenings spent reading the alternative Earth he had envisioned. For the most part, I enjoyed his characters, or at least Ender and some of his fellow students at the Battle School, particularly Bean, Dink and Alai — even though at times I could not relate to them or found myself straining to maintain my suspension of disbelief. Why? Very few of the children characters ever struck me as being children, particularly Ender and his siblings, Valentine and Peter. Now I know they are supposed to be super geniuses — and of course Ender is in a military environment — but I still expected some immaturity with all the children characters, with them being characters that could grow. But instead, Ender’s perfection is constantly mentioned; but what would one expect? After all, he is “all they’ve got”: humanity’s one shot.

Ender does have great moments when he feels real: he does cry, he gets a little homesick, knows fear and even suffers a mental breakdown as the adults heap all their problems on him and expect him to dig humanity out of its hole. You do feel sorry for this kid, once you are reminded of his age and watch as he is manipulated into becoming what he most fears. It’s only understandable that over the course of the novel, you do develop a distaste for all the adults in the book as they take extremes to shape Ender — ultimately leading to the big trick of the book, which led to an “oh really” moment for me (your mileage may vary on the big reveal). In fact the appalling nature of the adults made me speculate that the buggers were not nearly as bad as they were being made out to be, leading me wish at points that they would revisit Earth with vengeance — occasionally in SciFi, humanity just needs put into its place.

There were other instances where I was pulled from the action (besides when struck by the almost alien nature of the Wiggin children). One instance was the rule limiting parents to two children each. Yes, I get that overpopulation is an issue in this alternate version of Earth; however, humanity has been living under the threat of the buggers. You would think procreation would be encouraged in order to have plenty of future soldiers to serve as canon fodder against an enemy that in the past has been shown to be quite deadly. Who knows, amongst those unborn children might have been more Eisenhowers, Napoleons, Shermans, Alexanders, Lees, Rommels — Ender Wiggins need not have been the only one, which is another small nitpick I had. Yes, geniuses can be rare, but throughout the history of the world, there have been cases of  several great generals, sometimes all within the same conflict. And with Card’s Earth being chalked full of people (overpopulation is a problem after all), I find it hard to believe that there are no other military geniuses that appeared throughout the long pause in the bugger conflict. It just seems statistically impossible.

Another “what?” moment was more something that I found hilarious, though I know it was definitely not the intention of the author: The boys are constantly naked throughout the book; yes, cue the immature giggles. This was just a minor aspect that rather than add to the story, kinda interrupts its flow for me — another probably others who have weirdly triggered funny bones like my own. This choice on Card’s part also leads to some rather homoerotic moments, which are also unintentionally funny when you look at the author’s thoughts on the topic.

Ender’s actions, which don’t always follow his thoughts of “not playing the game,” not giving into the adults, was perhaps my biggest peeve. At first, I was expecting Card to have Ender rally the other kids around him — like a true general — to combat the unfair “no-rules” approach of the adults (albeit still turning out to be what the adults wanted), but it never materialized. The set up was there, but despite his constant thoughts about not playing the game, Ender still goes along and plays the game, but because he is still winning he arrives at the conclusion that he’s resisting the adults — kinda counterproductive in my opinion, but what ever floats your boat. Yep, this one is definitely my biggest peeves about “Ender’s Game,” he never uses his massive intellect and growing power with his peers to take a stand against the adults and their constant changing of the rules.

There were other minor issues, largely tied with the twist toward the end — but I won’t spoil that for those who have not read or seen the film. However, I found Card’s handling of the buggers to be refreshing, and through it, he offers a very telling portrait of humanity. However, Card doesn’t just end the book looking at the mirror darkly. No, he provides a glimmer of hope for our severely flawed species.

Final Thoughts: I would recommend reading “Ender’s Game” despite its flaws and minor annoyances; there is, after all, a reason that over the years it has remained a classic of the SciFi genre. And just being over 200 pages in length, you will tear through it quickly. Now that I’ve completed the book, I think I will check out the film just to see how they handled it, especially with the time gaps. Will I read other books in the “Ender’s Game” series? Quite possibly, at least its indirect sequel, “Speaker for the Dead.”

I’m in need of great SciFi novels to read and am looking for any suggestions. In particular, I would like tales set in space, preferably without Earth. Leave suggestions in the comments. Thanks — S.W.

Reviewsystem_wordpress

Three bloody quills out of four: A quick, fun read

Categories: Books, Reviews | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

App Review: Kindle Buffet

As writers, we love to read. And like most creative types, we are often poor. So what better than a smorgasbord of free Kindle ebooks? This is where Kindle Buffet — available on both Google Play and iTunes — comes in handy by providing you with your daily menu of free Kindle books. While you can Google or hunt for free ebooks via a variety of different sources, Kindle Buffet cuts down on the time spent in the act by pulling up the cream of the crop as it were.

I first learned of this app from my frugal friend who has a Kindle and of course had to have it. Fortunately, I was able to download the app for my Android phone, and over the course of using the app, I’ve found several fascinating books from cookbooks and nonfiction to fantasy novels. And the big plus? Well, if you end up not liking something, there is no reason to fret: You are only out the time, not the money.

When you launch the app, you are greet by the Editor’s Choice. This page features approximately eight editor picks, plus a couple of top bargains for the day. These picks often feature a wide variety from romance and thriller to politics, though I’ve notice a tendency to lean more toward the romance. With each book entry on the Editor’s Choice page, you are told the genre of the book, plus provided a summary and a brief bio for the author.

On the same page is the Bargains for Today section, which features ebooks that have had a huge cut in price. For example, “Unbreakable: My Story, My Way” by the late Jenni Rivera normally sells for $9.99 but today is only $1.99 — not bad, right? Of course, both the Bargains of the Today and the Editor’s Choice update daily, so each day there will be something new to discover, which is always nice.

However, if nothing on the Editor’s Choice catches your fancy, that’s alright! Just hit the Fiction Top Sellers tab and select from whatever genre will satisfy your reading needs, or just select the Top Free Fiction titles. Once you select what you are looking for, you will be directed to the Amazon website itself to free eBooks of your chosen genre. You can do the exact same thing with nonfiction titles with genres like: cooking, food and wine; advice & how-to; children’s nonfiction; and so on.

Beyond books, this app also highlights free apps that are available through Amazon. If you have an Android, Kindle Buffet will also highlight general free apps.

Now you might be wondering, how come these books are discounted or free. Well often, the author or publisher choose to do so, more often than not to gain exposure. According to Weber Books, the maker of the app, these giveaways can be used to spark additional sales of an author’s previous books. Of course, they also note: “Kindle freebies are a hotly debated topic among authors. Many believe that the giveaways devalue all books, making it harder for each author to earn a living. They argue that readers will buy far fewer books if the market is flooded with freebies. However, perhaps an equal number of authors — including many highly successful ones — believe that the giveaways provide invaluable exposure, enabling them to broaden their fan base and ultimately sell more books.”

No matter what your viewpoint is on ebooks or freebies, Kindle Buffet is a fun app for the average user and holds the possibility of introducing a reader to a new favorite author or book. So happy reading!

 

Categories: Apps, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Partial Review: Attempting to use Evernote

evernote_ipad_wallpaper

So what do you have to offer me Evernote?

I had downloaded Evernote several months ago, but had never really messed around with it until this week. So far, I’m seeing a lot of potential for this program and its nifty Firefox add-on — I have yet to use the Android app — as a writer. I’ve set up separate notebooks for each of my current novel projects, and for my SciFi project, I’ve created notes that keep track of my cast of characters and their bios. I have also created a note with each setting/place that my characters stop at, which is a huge help due to some of the locations having strange names. Additionally, there are a lot of locations, some just mentioned by the characters, and they all need to be tracked.

I can see endless time savings with the Evernote Web Clipper internet Web browser add-on for writers of all genres, but perhaps more particularly for those who focus on historical fictional. While researching on the internet, all you have to do is click the little elephant icon — get it, elephants never forget, cha! — and it instantly saves the page to your notes, while giving you the option of which notebook to put it in and which tags you would like to use.

Evernote also uses tags, meaning you can attach tags to each note. Tags I have used so far include characters, settings, places. I assume as my number of notes begin to grow these tags will prove to be life and time savers.

Once I play more with Evernote, I will post more of my thoughts and opinion on this software, plus eventually the Android app.

Do you use Evernote? What are your favorite features or tips for a person, particularly a writer, just starting out with the program.

Categories: Reviews, Software | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: