Doskoi Panda

Books

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Smashwords book reviews by Doskoi Panda

  • Kings & Queens on Aug. 16, 2011

    Majesty is a girl of action with a number of problems to solve. She manages her high school's baseball team (on a winning streak), is convinced that her father's death wasn't an accident, overhears a plot to gun down a church service and is unsure how to alert the police, and is bouncing back and forth as to which of her two best friends she is in love. And, of course, her mom has a new, peculiar boyfriend ( a situation about which she feels a bit Hamlet-y.) The pace of this novel is furious, and never really lets you catch your breath. You may get a moment to sigh your relief, but don't be fooled; more danger and complication is on the way, pretty much at every turn. The characters are, for the most part, interesting and engaging; Majesty is just about believable (most of the time), and the portrayal of cliques in high school also feels accurate. Majesty is a strong heroine, she is not infallible, but she is tough as nails (I renamed her Ripley in my head at times.) The young men in the book are also more than stepping stones; they have developed characters and aren't just moping eye candy or idiotic children, which is refreshing. Needs a bit of polishing, but nothing too critical. A good proofreader/editor could correct the typographical errors that are scattered throughout, and help with smoothing out some of the mental leaps in the text to make the story a little easier to follow - the pace is furious and I felt that some things were left out or glossed over, or left for the reader to fill in the gap, which made following the story difficult at times. Another few quibbles: a couple plotlines are also resolved then dropped like rocks, the coincidence of her meeting one extremely helpful character and the romantic conclusion all felt a bit too easy, and detracted from the story (from my point of view at least. Easy resolutions just feel a bit too much like Hollywood endings - empty and cheapening.) Bottom line: this is a good fun read, if you can handle a bit of metal hopscotch. It's meatier than some ebooks I've read (193 pages in the pdf version), and covers a pretty sprawling plot very well. 4 stars Copy of this ebook supplied by the author as part of LibraryThing's Member giveaway. Review refers to the pdf copy.
  • Magical Stories on Sep. 08, 2011

    This is a small book of four short fairy-tale type stories that have been translated from German or Italian. The first and third stories both relay a warning of what can happen when mankind tries to alter nature, the second story is an instructional tale (think things through!) and the last story is possibly the most fun - poking fun at the logistical problems caused by the need to deliver presents for Christmas. All the tales are imaginative and fun, and would be great for reading to children. As others have noted, the translation is a bit tricky in places, and could definitely use some work. I gave this 4 stars in the end - the translation issues being the only real problem, the tales themselves are excellent.
  • A Feast of Flesh: Tales of Zombies, Monsters, and Demons on Sep. 27, 2011

    Short(60 pages), short horror story collection with a main focus on zombies (though there are other horrors as well.) Though all ten stories are good, I would call these four the best and most polished: Tesoro's Magic; The Distillery; Sea of Green, Sea of Gold; and Down There. They remind me of some of Stephen King's early short stories in that they are well paced, tightly written and allow an eerie sense of dread to seep into your bones. In Cargo, we see a glimpse of the life of a man who hauls the corpses of the "ruined ones" to a pit for his keep in a settlement; Tesoro's Magic depicts a soldier home after surviving what should have been a fatal shooting; The Way of Things in Fly Over Country is a coming of age tale in a post-zombie agricultural community; Former Vocations is a poem examining the relationship between career in life and... after; The Distillery recounts a live child born in a "grey man" over-run slum tenement; In the Primal Library shows why imaginative boys should be supervised when reading National Geographic; Familiar Faces a zombie tale of the ever-hungry dead; Sea of Green, Sea of Gold is a tale like the Irish féar gortach with a twist; Bona Fide King of His Realm is a creeping horror featuring that nightcrawling favourite of fisherman; and Down There is an excellent dreadful about the desire to be whole again. All in all a great, collection of horror that doesn't veer to the extraneous gore or unsubtle shock tactics of lesser writers. Review copy supplied to me by the author as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway program.
  • Scriber on Oct. 12, 2011

    Ben S. Dobson's Scriber lured me in with its promise of an academic's adventure tale, which it handsomely delivered. Scriber recounts the story of Dennon Lark, a disgraced scholar of history, as he joins with a group of military women, who are shunned and belittled, to stop a serious assault on the kingdom. There are two major mysteries to solve - how the attackers, called the burners, manage to appear and disappear, seemingly by magic; and the reasons behind their attacks. This leads the band through a dangerous landscape, in search of discovering answers thought long lost. The main characters in the novel are well fleshed out and their descriptions are part of the story, moving it forward rather than wallowing or padding it. The women are strong and memorable without being made ridiculous or mythic. Scriber is well written, not bogged down with jargon or stilted language, and with little waste or over-padding to obfuscate the tale. This lends itself well to the pacing of the story, which flowed well and, again, was not impeded; the author's focus remained fixed on the telling of the tale. I haven't many criticisms to make about Scriber - it's well written and paced - other than that in places it feels a bit overly sentimental, and the ending was predictable (though the story getting there was not). I would have liked more background on the various events and figures from the realm's history, and a little more on the religion, though these are not necessary to the story. Scriber is a treasure hunt, a historical-mystery with a touch of horror, and a love-letter to all those who promote truth and understanding, and seek their own path despite difficulties. An excellent fantasy novel, and particularly superb beacon in the indie fantasy sphere. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and recommend it to any who are looking for a stand-alone fantasy novel in the scholars and swords genre*. Review copy supplied by the author as part of Librarything's Member Giveaway program. *I may be making up a new genre there.
  • This Brilliant Darkness on Oct. 17, 2011

    Red Tash's The Brilliant Darkness is a dark fantasy involving a young college professor, Christine, her circle of friends and colleagues, and a genuinely weird antagonist named Greachin. Set in Bloomington, Indiana, during a peculiar stellar (literally) event, the Stella Mirabilis, the story unfolds first with a murder, then with a series of increasingly weird and frightening events centered around Christine. There are heavy dabs of both Christian religion and Buddhism scattered throughout, themes of reincarnation/rebirth, karma, and touches of Greek mythology. Nods are also made towards science fiction with the weird "star", time travel, references to "Star Trails" and its star Captain Kurt, played by Bill Schakler, etc. This Brilliant Darkness has interesting ideas on various religions, and individual people or observations are well described, giving little islands of coherency and humour. The setting is described fairly well, and the author has supplied a map on her website, should you feel the need to confirm locations of various events. Clever double meanings in some of the jokes (e.g., the campus clock time), and other touches of humour were also used well throughout. A few of the shifting perspectives were well done in terms of character voice; you knew who they were through the writing rather than a direct signal. And now the bad: This Brilliant Darkness is written somewhat disjointedly - it was confusing and hard to follow. While reading it, I felt that there was very little to indicate the passage of time in the story, which added to the confusion. Characters felt unfulfilled/deflated, particularly where there was a sense of importance attached to them. (Kind of like riding to the top of the hill on a rollercoaster, hearing the clicks and the groans of the climb, then stopping at the precipice and having to take a service elevator down.) Rather a lot of referencing in such a short book (.epub edition is around 200 pages) almost to the point of it being a game, which detracted from the story. I also had trouble believing the descriptions of Christine's campus life and her work (or rather the lack thereof) as a professor. This was similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces; it starts off as an interesting puzzle, but winds up being frustrating, leaving you without any payoff. It may work better combined with its sequel or subsequent volumes, for now it just doesn't feel like a complete, stand-alone work. Overall: 2.5 or 3 stars Review copy supplied by the author as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway program.
  • Fantastic Realms on Oct. 23, 2011

    Fantastic Realms is a collection of short fantasy stories ranging from early pulp style to the fable or fairy tale. While the stories are imaginative, they suffer from issues with wording* and use of fantasy tropes. I'd recommend a few of the stories (Enchantress of Rurne and Ahrion's Minions, in particular) to fans of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories as they share a similar feel. These stories read as early work from a promising writer finding his voice; it will be interesting to see how these early writing experiences have honed his craft in the novel, Wolf's-Head: Rogues of Bindar. 2.5 stars Review copy supplied by the author as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway program. *Wording in the stories seems to have come from a fantasy themed dictionary - peppering a story with older or medieval words is fine by me - lends a sense of time and character world - but this was a little much for my tastes.
  • Small Magic: Collected Short Stories on Oct. 27, 2011

    Aaron Polson's flash fiction collection, Small Magic, is composed of brilliant, bite sized, dark short stories, ranging from slightly-off-kilter to downright macabre. The stories do not rely on shock tactics for their effectiveness; instead, the writing is subtle, cleverly and tightly written, all the more impressive considering the length of the stories. He uses touches of black humour and little nudges to prick up the reader's senses to the realisation that something is ever so slightly out of place. A few of the stories revolve around words or writing; a guide to writing horror fiction is deliciously tongue in cheek, while in another, the words themselves take action. Others revolve around normal daily occurrences that veer towards the hideously wrong, or are focused on children's interactions. All in all, a wonderful collection of weird tales covering a wide variety of themes. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys well written short, dark fiction. Review copy supplied by the author as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway program. Overall rating: 5 stars
  • Naming The Moon on Oct. 28, 2011

    Naming the Moon is a novella centered around Pauly Macy, a local printer and American football addict. Pauly has recently been left by his girlfriend,Jilly, and plans to go on a series of football oriented trips - to the cities where the games take place, and watch the games in his favourite bars. He collects his airplane tickets from his friends and muses with them about the Moon, and why all the rest of the planets' moons are named, but Earth's isn't. He next ponders the Moon's namelessness in a bar in Buffalo, where he meets Loretta, and things begin to get complicated. Partly because of Loretta, Pauly goes out digging in the Rincon, uncovering the ancient human remains of an woman, a find which could have an impact in archaeology, anthropology and Native American Indian claims. Naming the Moon feels like there are two plotlines (the Lorretta/romantic interest plotline and the skeletal remains debacle) both of which have great potential. The character quirks and interactions, particularly the friendship between Pauly, Walty and Kate, help to flesh out the characters and make them believable*. I particularly enjoyed the mini-stories within the text (e.g., the reason why the bar in Buffalo is called Cheat's) as they add a layer of believability as well as offer a hints or insight. On the downside, the novella has grammatical errors that need editing. The pacing of the story felt off, possibly because there were two plotlines, the second of which was rushed and unexplored, despite it having excellent potential**. The ending felt abrupt and unfulfilled, which was frustrating. The first plotline felt like it was left dangling, unresolved on all levels. The police work described (e.g., leaving a scene unattended) didn't ring true for me, and Pauly's football tour also seemed somehow unlikely. Overall: 2.5 stars - Some great ideas here, but they need either pruning or development. *The interaction with Malcolm is not as believable, but not unreasonable. ** It was what drew me to read the book in the first place, hence the frustration. Review copy supplied by the author as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway Program.
  • Wolf's-head, Rogues of Bindar Book I on Nov. 03, 2011

    The words get in the way of this story, which is a shame as it could well be an excellent pulp fantasy. If you are a fan of grandiose, overly descriptive language in your fantasy novels, this may well be for you.
  • Night at the Demontorium, Series Book 1 on Nov. 17, 2011

    A small collection of short horror stories, each involving an unusual angle on themes of addiction and other madness/mental illnesses. As another reviewer has noted, it's difficult to go into detail on these as I don't want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that Ms. Haviland's tales are rarely totally straightforward, but their twists are what make the horror effective. I would particularly praise the author's variations in point of view; they are used to great effect, luring the reader in (that first sentence, for example) then teasing with gradual illumination or a sudden revelation. Although the roughness is sometimes an active part to the story, they could use some polish to smooth it out a little. The edits would help with clarification in a few places, as well as taking care of a few typos and grammar. The ideas behind the stories are excellent, but slightly gimmicky, relying on twists. This makes them excellent for a reader interested in reading once or twice, but may not bear up to repeated readings. Overall rating: 4 stars - Readers who enjoy tales of madness will appreciate this collection. It's not unlike The King in Yellow or even Lovecraft in places, but with modernized language use, and less expansive in detail and description.
  • Fresh Flesh on Jan. 08, 2012

    With a name like Fresh Flesh, I must admit that I was expecting a zombie story. Instead, Fresh Flesh is a modernised pulp novel, possibly best described as a cross between Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And possibly a bit of Lost as well. A wealthy man and his wife are sailing towards Hawaii when their ship capsized, resulting in the death of almost everyone on board. The wife washes up on the shore of an island and is tended to by a man named Richard, who has been trapped on the island for several years. But they aren't alone on the island, and the island has secrets.(But not zombie secrets. Just government project ones.) In a surprising move for an action based novel, I could follow every move, and keep a clear image of what was happening where (usually it's a bit jumbled). The characters are a bit simplified, but that may be why things were so easy to follow. Descriptions are detailed without being ridiculous, and just enough background is offered on the islanders. The woman in the tale, however, is kind of irritating in that she is flat - her reactions just don't ring true most of the time. I also found the government scenes very hokey, but not out of keeping with other pulp fiction I've read. While I can't really say that I enjoyed it - the characters were too thin for me to start caring about what happened to them - it is a pretty good story, if you like this genre. about 3.5 stars Review copy received from the author a part of Librarything's Member Giveaway Program.
  • Brandon Marlowe and the Alpha in the Omega on Jan. 17, 2012

    Brandon Marlowe and the Alpha in the Omega is the second in a series of fast paced young adult fantasy novels about a young man, Brandon Marlowe, who has the ability to be an air elemental, a gift descended to him via a Greek Titan. Brandon is attending a school where he trains to be a part of an elite force created to protect the people and allies of Tartarus, and where he also is seeking further information on his older brother's death. Amongst the enemies of Tartarus are the original Greek Pantheon, and a group of other humans, referred to as the Followers, who are fanatical believers in a single deity, and are lead by a man called the Apostle. There are intrigues and complications as Brandon learns more about the history of the conflicts, and delves into his brother's death. I liked this much, much more than I initially thought I would - the first few pages sort of tumbled me into a world for which I had not been prepared - and was especially pleased that it didn't follow the usual strategy of beating one opponent, then "leveling up" and going on to the next. Instead, the opponents are mostly shrouded, and the narrator's goals are diverse rather than singly focused. Any sense of "leveling up" is gained through not only mission or training experience, but through the narrator's sense that he either succeeded or found a way to improve a technique, rather than just moving on to a bigger bad guy. Once I had a handle on the world in which the series is set, it proved to be fascinating, incorporating Greek mythology and elements of Christian theology into a fairly complex storyline. The characters felt fairly real, rather than being two dimensional, though I think I would have found them even more so, if I had read the previous novel. The lack of a synopsis covering the previous book was a drawback; it took about seventy pages before I really felt that I had a handle on all that was going on. There's also confusion in the setting - I had (and still have) very little idea of the locations and their positions (this may have been covered in the previous book.) I also had very little idea of what any of the main characters looked like (again, probably covered in the first novel). A later scene from Olympus, felt strange and out of place, not only because of its content, but also because it was the only scene outside of the narrator's point of view. Also, along these lines in a sort of odd complaint, we never see the narrator working/practicing some of the things he tries out until the moment he tries them, making it harder to gauge him as a person, not that I think I would want to see endless amounts of training/practicing spells, etc., but it would bolster the image of a school/student far more if a bit were included. I read this as an .epub on an iPad, and noticed some formatting issues with altered text sizes, which may not be present in other formats (one paragraph would be a normal font size, then the next would be tiny. Then, a paragraph or two later, text would be back to regular size.) 4 stars Review copy supplied by the author as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway Program.
  • Michael Belmont and the Tomb of Anubis on Jan. 20, 2012

    Ethan Russell Erway's Michael Belmont and the Tomb of Anubis is a sort of young adult, Indiana Jones style adventure that collides with supernatural beings, folklore, Egyptian mythology and Christian theology. Michael and his younger sister are staying at a castle Scotland over the summer with family friends, while their parents head to an archaeological dig in Egypt. Michael discovers a mysterious wing of the house, the passage to which only appears at night, and is filled with all sorts of legendary objects, including a sort of living movie/memory box of Anubis and some slightly disturbing werewolf lore. Then their parents are reported as missing, and the children head off to try and help find them. The first thing I need to praise is Erway's creative use of mythologies and folklore (though the whole "where the power comes from" bit left me feeling exactly the same way I did when they downgraded Pluto from being a planet: unhappy and twitchy.) He gave good depictions of the kids, especially the sister - she was just ornery enough to be believable, but not Scrappy -doo annoying. The objects in the night corridor were also particularly well done - just enough detail to identify, but not an overload of information. Overall, this was a good, fun, rollicking adventure. Though I liked the story, I really felt as though it was pulled way too many directions to be really satisfying; at times it felt like the author was trying to cram as many ideas in as possible, regardless of whether or not it really fit with the story. The Arizona scenes felt very contrived as part of the cramming (and I still don't quite get the point of the assembled "team") as did the revelation at the end. It just felt like a grocery list of things was being filled, rather than being a legitimate part of the story. Characters seem to have unrealistic reactions and recoveries to/from situations (Michael's sister's quick recovery from her experience in the woods, for example.) The travel seemed excessive, particularly with what I know of archaeologist's salaries. (Arizona again. I think I have it in for that segment.) 3.5 stars Review copy supplied by the author as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway Program.