Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Magic Warble Giveaway

    After winning a copy of The Magic Warble in a giveaway, I was contacted by the author Victoria Simcox and asked if I would be interested in holding a giveaway of my own. I, being a fledling reviewer who has yet to hold any giveaways, immediately jumped on the opportunity. I've already reviewed The Magic Warble and have given it a 3/5. My final conclusion that it is, despite technical issues throughout the book, a cute little book and one that I think will be fairly popular amongst children in the lower range of the targeted age groups(kids 8-10). To read the full reviews, click here.
    Now, onto the things generally expected in a giveaway: author information and details. Never having hosted one of these before I was rather lucky in that Miss.Simcox seems to know what she's doing. She promptly sent be both her bio and an interview, both of which can be read below. The details regarding the giveaway are quite simple. Merely fill sign into the Rafflecopter forum at the very end of this post with the e-mail adress of your choice and choose one or all of the options to enter. I don't like giveaways that run forever, so i've decided to make this one last a week(06/21--06/28). There are three international copies(electronic books, not print) available in this giveaway. Good luck!


Author Bio~

   Victoria was born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, to an Austrian immigrant mother, and a Dutch immigrant father. She now lives in Western Washington with her husband, Russ and their three children, Toby, Kristina, and William. Her other family members are a Chihuahua, named Pipsy and two cats, named Frodo and Fritz. Besides being an author, Victoria is a home-schooling mother of twelve years and an elementary school art teacher of eleven years. In her spare time, Victoria enjoys managing her two older children's Celtic band. She also loves writing, reading, painting watercolors, hiking, good movies, and just simply hanging out with her family and friends.

Q: Who reads your manuscripts before you submit them?
A: A few close friends and my daughter. I trust and admire their opinions.
Q:Do you have a day job? Do you hope that writing will be your full time career in the future?
A:I teach elementary school art during the week and I also home-school my youngest son. Even if writing was my full time career, I think I could still handle these other two tasks, which I love doing.
Q:What are you working on now?
A:The third book in The Magic Warble series.
Q:What’s your favorite way to procrastinate?
A: I can push the easy button on this question—youtube and facebook, lol.
Q: Where do you do your best writing? Do you like to have certain surroundings?
A: At my computer, in my bedroom. It's where I always write, unless I'm on the road. I know … I'm a creature of habit.
Q:If you could live in one book for a day, what would it be?

A: Love this question! Hogwarts School in Harry Potter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox

    The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox is a juvey fiction novel geared towards children ages 9-13. After having read it, I would personally shift the age category a tad to exclude thirteen-year-olds and include eight-year-olds. While the book holds its charms I believe that it is a little too simplistic for someone entering their teens and more appropriate for a kid in their first years of middleschool. I don’t mean for this to sound like a snub but rather insight gathered from children I know and the books they’re most inclined to read. Now, let me amaze you with my awesome summarizing abilities(because three years of college has to have taught me something…right?). The Magic Warble chronicles the journey of twelve-year old Kristina—a shy, intelligent girl who is often the brunt of jokes and ridicule. Upon receiving a very unusual Christmas gift, Kristina is hurled into the land of Bernovem. All at once, Kristina is charged with using her gift—knowm as the Magic Warble—to restore peace to an ailing land and she enters into a long journey of intrigue, whimsy, and danger.
    The Magic Warble is a cute book, though I did find myself constantly nitpicking technical issues. One of the first oddities I came across was the way that the dialogue is written. Kristina’s words go from being very sophisticated—perhaps too sophisticated for a girl of her age—to very age appropriate. Now, while preteen girls with great manners and decent vocabularies are far and few between, I wouldn’t have been opposed to Kristina’s sophisticated dialogue and well-groomed manners if they had been at least partially explained. For instance, I was a very loquacious little girl. One of my favorite past-times was to read whatever dictionary happened to be lying around and to underline pretty words to be used in conversation. I liked to scour thesauruses and bedazzle my speech with what I felt were grown-up sounding words in order to project an air of maturity. I was born eccentric, so my speech habits—while unusual—made sense to those who knew me. Readers get to know very little of Kristina before her journey begins and I wish that Simcox would have given us a better sense of why she speaks so articulately for a girl her age(perhaps by establishing that like me she loved to speak as though she were much older). Now, I do have to keep in mind that this is a juvy fiction book. For those unfamiliar with the differences between juvy fiction and young adult fiction I would ask that you indulge my inner know-it-all and allow me to give a brief explanation(if you want to skip my little tangent feel free to do so. I promise I won’t be too offended). Juvy fiction is simply an age category that means that people of certain ages will be most drawn to these books because a) the protagonists are usually of a similar age to the readers and b) the story is written in a way that is easy enough for that age group to understand but complicated enough to hold their interests. In the case of juvy fiction, the ages targeted are usually 8-12. Naturally, some books target the upper or lower range of this age group(for example, some books are more appropriate for a kid of 12 than a kid of 8). Young Adult fiction usually targets readers ages 12-19. A brief perusal of this blog will reveal that I mostly review classics or young adult fiction(specifically science fiction and fantasy). As a reviewer, I have to be cognizant of the fact that I can’t judge a book geared towards a seventeen-year old in the same way as a book geared towards a ten-year old. I had to continuously remind myself while reading The Magic Warble of this fact. For instance, the pacing in this book is perfectly appropriate for a middle schooler but would be a big no-no in a book for a highschooler. But I digress.
   Aside from Kristina’s strange speech habits I ran across a few sentence structure issues(which I only feel the need to mention because I believe that a middle-schooler might notice them as well), the biggest of which was the need for comma splicing. I love commas. Who doesn’t love a good comma? When I first learned how to properly(or what I thought was properly) use commas I felt the need to use one every other sentence. Commas were like condiments for me; they were my pepper and my salt. However, as anyone who has ever taken a creative writing class will tell you, sometimes enough is enough. As a general rule commas are used to separate thoughts contained within a sentence. They are used to indicate a pause or an aside and are wonderful tools when used correctly. There are several instances in The Magic Warble where the use of commas are not only incorrect but also create a very choppy effect. For example:

"The pile of laundry had been replaced by a pile of leaves, and instead of the basement floor, it seemed to be grass beneath her."

Read this setnence aloud, making sure to take a breath whenever a comma appears. It isn’t very coherent, is it? Aside from the improper placement of commas, the latter half of the sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense. This entire sentence can be re-written by simply changing the placement of a comma and reworking some muddled wording and be all the better for it. Observe:

"The pile of laundry had been replaced by a pile of leaves and, instead of the basement floor, there was grass beneath her."

It isn’t the best sentence in the world but it makes more sense written this way than it did previously. Yes, I know I sound like a highschool grammar teacher. No, I’m not trying to claim that I’m some sort of super-awesome-special-spifftastic writer. Little snafus like this happen to every writer no matter their skill. However, the aforementioned example is not an isolated occurrence. There are dozens of sentences that feature either ill-placed commas or irrelevant commas and I believe that it is important that Simcox be made aware of these snafus so that she can be mindful of not making the same mistakes in the future. One final nitpick I has is the repetition of two words: suddenly and then. The fact that the narrative is fast-paced doesn’t bother me because it’s perfectly appropriate for this genre(juvy fiction fantasy). Younger children tend to have short attention spends—ESPECIALLY where reading is concerned—so the pacing of books aimed at them has to be quick enough to keep their interests. What I did have a problem with was the way that sudden occurrences or plot progressions were introduced. Almost every event is prefaced with a "suddenly" or "then". I’m sure that Simcox did not realize just how often she uses these words but they are none the less used a lot and quickly become repetitious. By the time I was halfway through the book I literally cringed every time suddenly popped into a sentence.
   All nitpickery aside, this is a cute book. I like the story and the characters as well as imaginative little details such as the Magic Warble itself and entirely made-up creatures like the zelbocks. I loved how the stereotypical bully characters were not just used and ditched but rather incorporated into the adventure. I think the fact that Kristina has a pet rat instead of something much more girly and feminine is awesome. The illustrations throughout the story were very pleasant and they reminded me of the illustrations in The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. Most of us older kids will be able to appreciate the charm of this book, even if we nitpick it to death, but I would recommend this story be read by a younger audience. It would be a nice gift for a niece or nephew(as the story boasts a female and a male lead) or a good book for a teacher to read to a young class. My advice to anyone who reads this book is to just take it for what it is: a cute story aimed at children. I might have poked and prodded it quite a bit during my review, but eventually I did manage to comfortably ignore certain technical issues and just enjoy adventuring through Bernovem with Kristina. So if you’re looking for something to read to your kid or a gift for a child’s birthday you should give The Magic Warble a try.

Rating: 3/5

Victoria Simcox
Magic Warble Giveaway

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sora's Quest by T.L.Shreffler

"Death, despite what the bards had to say, was not beautiful or dramatic. It was a cold body laying in the grass"

Sora's Quest by T.L.Shreffler chronicles the journey of a noblewoman named Sora who dreams of adventure but has always lacked the ambition and opportunity to pursue her desires. Having been sheltered for the vast majority of her life, Sora knows very little of the world outside of heroic tales such as the epics of Kaelyn the Wanderer. Fate—both a cruel and gentle messenger—intercedes on the eve of Sora’s arranged marriage with the unscrupulous Lord Garret. Moments before the ceremony commences, Sora’s father—a man who she barely knows—is struck down by a shadowy assassin, leaving the wedding procession in utter chaos. Taking advantage of the clamor and commotion, Sora slips away from the panicked masses and begins her plan of escape. All seems to be going fairly well until she runs into the very man who murdered her father. In a blur, Sora is swept away by the dark figure and threatened at knife point. After years of longing, Sora finally gets her shot at adventure. Now the only obstacle remaining is to survive to tell the tale.
   This is a great book. It is a great book for many reasons, all of which I will try to cover without chirping on and on about why said reasons make this book so good(you must forgive this bird, as it has been almost a month since she’s read such a good book). Let us start with the characters, chiefly Sora. Sora(a great name for a heroine in Sora’s predicament, as the name means sky and is also the name of a bird. This is pleasantly apt, as Sora’s drive is for freedom) is a surprisingly relatable character. I didn’t know if I’d like her at first as I was worried that she, like so many heroines of this genre, would suffer from insufficient writing. Too many a female leads are made out to be "strong", though in truth they generally possess only one trait that might be deemed as such and are often used as a tool to further romantic subplots. Sora is not one of those characters, though for a while I genuinely feared that she would be. For you see, Shreffler thrusts her lead into a situation that many others would have used to formulate a really odd and non-sensible brooding romance. The noblewoman and her kidnapping assassin—can’t you just smell the hordes of Paranormal YA Romance’s that would take this idea down the Twilight route?
<blatant sarcasm>Because cool, indifferent, and sometimes verbally abusive men are totally attractive</blatant sarcasm>.

But I digress.
   The thing I appreciate the most about Sora’s character is the perfect balance between na├»ve dreamer, spoiled noblewoman, and novice adventurer. Realistically, as Sora has only known the life of a noblewoman and her only familiarity with adventure comes from romanticized myths, life on the road does not come easily to her. Putting aside the fact that she is a captive, Sora has never had to go a morning without breakfast, never had to sleep on the cold hard ground—heck, she probably never had to suffer without a bath for days on end. While Sora does manage these situations, they are not without discomfort. She acts very much like a person in her situation should act which is frazzled yet determined to survive. She is strong in some ways(she is fairly intelligent and possess admirable will power for a girl her age), but she also has moments of weakness. Basically, she’s balanced and written in a sympathetic enough way for readers to identify with her but she’s not over exaggerated with a tragic backstory like many modern heroines. She’s simply human, which is something I admire, as many authors seem to struggle with making realistic characters. Moving on from Sora, we have the ragtag duo of thieves(plus one assassin) that fate has stuck her with. These characters aren’t overly sympathetic. Sora, like readers, has to come to terms with the fact that one of them kills for a living and the other two are involved with theft. As readers, we’re allowed to empathize with these characters but we’re also allowed to disapprove of them. They aren’t forced down our throats as loveable ruffians. We know that they’ve done wrong and will probably continue to do wrong in the future. The romantic aspect of this book is also very ambiguous. In fact, the only possible hint at romantic feelings doesn’t come into play until the very end of the book, and even then neither of the parties involved actually admit to any romantic feelings. They simply admit to feeling something, and readers are left to ponder what that something might be. Even when Sora begins to warm up to her companions we are still privy to her conflicting emotions on the matter. On one hand, she knows that she’s still a captive (though here captive status gradually weakens over the course of the story). She knows that the people that she’s coming to like had a hand in killing her father and are involved in dubious activities. However, she’s still human. She still longs to make a connection to the people around her, even if the company isn’t always preferable. In this way, Shreffler craftily avoids giving her character stockholm syndrome. Sora doesn’t make excuses for her captors, but she also cannot deny that the trials they’ve shared together have forged an unexpected bond of camaraderie. It’s an interesting dynamic, one that could have gone horribly array under a less adept pen.
      In a nutshell, this is a great book. I know that I’m being terribly repetitive, but it really is a great read. The only factors that kept this book from being a five had to do with some strange unexplained motivations in the book. For instance, I never really understood why exactly Crash—also known as the assassin—took Sora captive in the first place. He obviously had not qualms about killing so why he just didn’t kill his only witness is very odd. Additionally, it was never explained why he assassinated her father. Was he hired? We know that he’s running from a man whose brother he murdered so why would he stop his flight to do a hit. Was he hired? These facts are never really made clear, though there are a few moments in the story where I was sure they’d be introduced. There’s also a reunion towards the end of the book that just kind of jumps out at you. Granted, there’s an explanation for it, but it still seemed a little too convenient. Then again, sometimes magic allows for some very convenient scenes to happen. Finally, in the closing chapters of the book, there’s a scene where our gruff assassin relaxes a bit(in a really hilarious way). I liked his growth of character, but at the same time he almost felt out of character for a bit of it. I know, I know—how can an author write his or her own creation out of character? There was just a slightly off feel to it, but at the same time I did really like the scene. I think I’m just nitpicking now. It’s a great read. You should read it. Go do so now.
Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Pack-Retribution by L.M.Preston

"Let the bodies hit the floor. One down and many more"

The Pack-Retribution by L.M.Preston is a young adult science-fiction novel that centers around a team of cadets who—after loosing their leader to an unknown assassin—race to find the killer before more loved ones die. The story takes place on Mars which was been transformed into a rehabilitation center for former convicts. These criminals have been given a vaccine that combats and eliminates whatever genetic predisposition lead them to crime in the first place. With their desire to perpetrate crime removed, scientists believe that these former convicts can lead renewed lives. Of course, not all that glitters is gold. Along with beat cops, Mars and it’s rehabilitated convicts are watched over by an Elite force who are outfitted with a specially designed nano skin that render them nearly impervious to harm and gives them enhanced strength. There are many really novel ideas in this story and it’s refreshing to see imagination in a genre that I feel has been suffering from an egregious lack of creativity in recent years. Unfortunately, Preston’s panoply of creative ideas and gadgets are lost in a very confusing narrative.
   I haven’t struggled this much with a book in quite some time. It was even a struggle to decide a proper rating. In some areas, the book is very good. However, the good—no matter how present—is quickly overshadowed by what I can only call sloppy execution. My chief problem with this book was that it felt a little discombobulated. The clues that lead to the real killer are too convenient and the large cast of characters can be difficult to distinguish, especially in scenes with a lot of dialogue. Now initially I had no idea that this book was actually a sequel to another(The Pack), so some of my initial confusion really can’t be blamed on Preston. Instead, I blame the way it’s marketed. Nothing in the summary claims that this book is in fact a sequel, so naturally would-be readers who are interested by the story’s premise would not think twice about purchasing/borrowing it. Once again, this really isn’t Preston’s fault and, while I was a little confused at first, the narrative is kind enough to inform any late comers to the series of the events of the previous book. Because I have not read this book’s predecessor, I cannot comment regarding its superiority or inferiority in comparison, so keep in mind while reading this review that I’m viewing this story as an independent body rather than a continuation.
  A few small issues that hindered my enjoyment of this book had to do with typographical errors and formatting. In fact, The Pack-Retribution is one of three e-books I’ve read to be plagued by two of the same mishaps: unnecessary hyphens and random insertions of the author’s name or story title in the middle of a paragraph. For example, words like smashing and swallowing are turned into swallow-ing and smash-ing. The page breaks, which were frustratingly frequent, read like this:

Too bad 98

The Pack-Retribution

That didn’t work out

As I’ve seen both of these errors in two other e-books, I assume that something must be going array with whatever software the authors(or their publishers) are using to transform their books into an e-book format. None the less, these errors are distracting and serve to sever the connection the reader has with the world within the story. There were also a few typos here and there, but nothing too terrible. Aside from format errors, The Pack-Retribution has a rather irritating habit of telling readers what characters feel instead of showing us through interactions. So and so loves so and so, so and so feels mad etc…The story also repeats certain statements over and over again, almost as if assuming that the readers will be too daft to remember them. For instance, I counted four separate moments in which readers are reminded that the main character Shamira has excellent hearing because she used to be blind, and even though she is no longer blind she still has excellent hearing. And readers are constantly informed about Shamira’s struggle at letting people get close—even though she seems to let quite a few people close—and how intense affection frightens her. Yes, Preseton I get it. She can hear well and has a fear of intimacy. Rather than telling readers all of these things(over and over), I’m confidant that Preston’s story would have been aided by showing readers examples of these facts instead of telling us, as well as trusting readers to remember the facts as given.
   None the less, I still did enjoy parts of the story. The basic premise of a drug that can help cure criminals of their impulse to commit crime is really fascinating. Additionally, the strange power that Shamira possesses which was born out of a brush with death was very intriguing and begged for more explanation(though, never have read the first book, I have no idea if better explanation was given). The nano skins that protect elite officers is something I haven’t seen in science fiction before. Can you imagine a comic book series based around people with that technology? It sounds like it would be pretty awesome to me. I suppose part of reason why this book confused me so much might have to do with the way the story is told—which is kind of like an action comic. I’ve nothing against comics, believe me—but the writing needed to tell a story in both mediums is different. I mean, would you want to read a comic written like a book? But really I am crossing into the realm of nitpickery here, so I’ll end this review by saying that the writing could have been better but the story and the environment in which the story takes place is really interesting. I imagine that fans of the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson will probably really enjoy this book, as both stories feature strong female leads and the writing style is reminiscent of an action comic.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The World of Ryyah by H.L.Watson

"She knew that if she ever made it back to her people she would be forced into an arranged marriage. A ransom of a different kind, she thought wryly"

     The World of Ryahh: Birth of the Half Elves by H.L.Watson is a story that chronicles the intersecting fates of two seemingly different individuals—both different in character and in Race. When Donovan was twelve-years old he witnessed the horrific slaughter of his fellow villagers—infants and children alike—and was forced into slavery by the Barbarians behind the massacre. He, along with dozens of other young boys, were forced to march into the forests and towards their impending enslavement to the very men who murdered their families. By a stroke of fate, the weak and frightened youths are saved by the Rangers—a sect of the Wood Elf kingdom allotted the task of defending their forests against intrusion. Against much protest, the leader of the Rangers decides to spare the children’s lives and raise them as her own, transforming them into an elite and loyal faction of her Ranger Corp. Little could Donovan have known that his life would be turned upside down upon the death of his surrogate mother and the kidnapping of the youngest princess of the Wood Elf kingdom, Brandela. In an attempt to avenge the death of his loved one, Donovan and Brandela’s fates become intertwined as they struggle to survive their long journey home—and to cope with their growing feelings towards one another. The basic plot of this story is very appealing. It promises adventure, romance, action, and even the demolition of social prejudices.
    Unfortunately, the story did not live up to it’s potential. Two of the most conspicuous problems that plague this book are poor formatting and technical errors. Aside from the occasional typographical error here and there, words that required no hyphens were suddenly split into two(vegetable becoming veg-etable, victim becoming vic-tim). While the latter errors were a bit baffling, ultimately they were forgivable. The occasional glitch, while amusing and at times annoying, is not enough to keep a good story down. Rather, it’s the combination of different errors in both writing technique and format that really kept an otherwise intriguing premise from reaching it’s full potential. Regarding formatting, the chief problem this book suffered from was the random insertion of either the book title or the chapter name in the middle of a paragraph. For example, a sentence would read like this:

"I have no intention of getting captured, but if I do, you’ve got a deal. Be safe, 61

Birth of the Half Elves

And may the blessings of the Elders shine down upon you."

   Similar awkward insertions and sentence breaks occur frequently throughout the story, resulting in atleast one infraction each chapter. These errors were distracting to say the least. All noticeable errors aside, I felt that the story also suffered from confusing transitions and pace problems. As there is nothing signaling a change of perspective, readers are suddenly jerked from one character’s view to another. Additionally, the whole story felt rushed. It almost seemed as though the author was too anxious to get to key points in the plot and as a result the narrative quickly jumps from one issue to another, while strangely taking ample time to play-out actions scenes. The romance came on a little too quick for my tastes as well. I understand that Donovan and Brandela had a spiritual bond but I feel as though this bond was used too much as an excuse to progress the romance while the story would have been better served by gradually allowing each character to come to a conclusion regarding their feelings towards another. Criticisms aside I think the premise of the book is a good one. If the technical issues were resolved and the pace of the story improved the plot and characters would have flourished more. Despite the issues I had with this book I think that I’d be open to giving the next book in the series a chance. I don’t know that I would buy it, but I also don’t think that I’d hesitate to borrow it from a fellow nerd.

Rating: 2.5/5

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Impending Reviews

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." -Groucho Marx

For the first half of June I’ll be reviewing the following books:


The Pack-Retribution by L.M.Preston
The World of Ryyah by H.L.Watson
Sora's Quest by T.L.Shreffler
Nette by Barbara Rayne
The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox
Wreck of the Nebula Dream by Veronica Scott

For the latter half of June my hope is to delve into two weeks of Tamora Pierce, one of my favorite female authors. If I don’t manage to finish in the last leg of June then the Pierce exploration will continue into the first week of July. Regardless, the reviews will culminate in a book giveaway, though of which Pierce title I have not decided. I'll update with the details when I have them figured out.