The Fall (The Rift, Book 1), by Robert J Duperre

March 29, 2012 8 comments

[This book has no back cover copy]

 

The Fall suffers from some big problems. The first is a series of careless errors which litters its pages: not only did I find problems with apostrophe-use and grammar, there were a few instances of exposition which explained things which were actually wrong. For example, the information given about how one of the characters funded his academic research, and what that research was meant to achieve, is at odds with how academic research really works. Had the author spent just ten minutes checking his facts I’d have been able to find his story much more believable. What makes it worse is that the information provided in that chunk of exposition wasn’t at all necessary to the story and could easily have been cut.

The bigger problem, though, was the tone of the writing.

The narrative frequently lapses into a lecturing, disapproving tone which I found thoroughly off-putting. The implication is that ancient civilisations were good and modern ones are bad; and that ancient knowledge was insightful and inspiring while modern technology renders our civilisation crass and insensitive. This, coupled with a stereotypical, somewhat dismissive view of today’s South American culture gave the book an unsympathetic and judgemental edge which made me reluctant to read on.

If the writer could introduce more variety of tone, could learn to not present things in such a black and white way, and could manage to be more sympathetic to his characters, then this book would be significantly improved; and once he manages that a scrupulous copyedit would resolve the book’s other issues. Whether this would be enough to change this from an ordinary predictable read into an exciting and interesting one, I’m not so sure. I read eleven of this book’s three hundred and thirty nine pages.

In Search of the Menopause Ranch, by Deborah Vaughn

March 22, 2012 Comments off

FICTION

From the moment Kimberly woke up she knew she had to be dreaming. Or worse…. Where was she? Middle age felt like the edge of a cliff and she hadn’t decided whether or not to jump. She’s about to learn what lies ahead in this transition, if only she can find the courage.

Heart-warming, irreverent and funny, “IN SEARCH OF THE MENOPAUSE RANCH” shares the intimate lives of women who’ve been devoted mothers, caretakers, workaholics and loving wives. But now what? As time seems to stand still, Deborah Vaughn takes us on a journey of self-discovery through encounters with the Goddess and the lives of each woman as they discover what’s missing —  what they almost forgot about themselves, their world and their gifts.

“I loved this book! Men, women, ancient history, the church, witches, inquisition, Gods and Goddesses—everything you wanted to know about how you got to where you are and what you can do about it. What will we do with our menopausal zest? How can we change our immediate worlds for the better—one woman, one town at a time?

Read this book— well researched, fascinating in its portrayal of history we never learned in school. All women will recognize themselves or others they know in the characters found at the Menopause Ranch. Laugh, weep, and then apply its lessons in your life. A great experience!”
Nikki Marie Welch, M.D.

Women in your middle years, what would you give to be whisked away from the cares of your daily life (by such colorful Spirit Guides as Belladonna Morose and Mea Culpeppa); to be taken to a magical realm where you’d discover the secrets of the ages that women have known since the world was new? Fortunately, to gain all the warmth, humor and wisdom of this special women’s retreat, you only have to read Deborah’s captivating novel, IN SEARCH OF THE MENOPAUSE RANCH.
Kris Neri, award-winning author of NEVER SAY DIE and the Tracy Eaton mysteries.

Deborah Vaughn attributes her straight-talking honesty to her Indiana roots. Life has been an instructive detour as an aspiring actress on Broadway, a minion in the corporate jungle and loving wife for 23 years. It was on a road trip with her sister where ‘IN SEARCH OF THE MENOPAUSE RANCH’ was born with the message that every journey in life is unique and special, just like every woman. Parts of it maybe unplanned and a bit bumpy, but by mid-life we have the skills, the talent and the guts to pave our own way.

Pisquale Productions

www.menopauseranch.com

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As is often the case with the books I review here, the back cover copy of In Search of the Menopause Ranch doesn’t provide a good indication of what the book is about: in it, menopausal women arrive mysteriously at a place with beautiful scenery and perfect catering, they share the stories of their lives, and are given some dodgy information about medical science and the gift of menopause. It’s an easy-enough read and it has the potential to be amusing: but the characters are thinly-drawn and homogenous and are often used as little more than vehicles to deliver information to each other; the information provided seems biased-to-wrong; and I find it quite unbelievable that not one out of all the women who appear at the ranch chooses to share a positive, affirming moment in their lives. Instead, they all share stories of unhappiness and exclusion, and while I’m sure that there are plenty of women who experience life in this way, I know that there are plenty more who do not. The people who feature in this book are a dreary lot, with their stories of sexism and misogyny, and I found it impossible to empathise with any of them despite my own menopausal trials. The women who work at the menopause ranch are no more finely drawn: they talk of the gift of femininity and the joy that is missing from contemporary life: but far from empathising with them I wanted to strangle them for their patronising, superior attitudes and their insistence that the women who had been transported to the ranch should follow their schedule without motive or explanation.

It’s an easy enough read, and is not at all demanding: it has the usual mix of punctuation and grammar problems; it’s often confusing; and it makes all sorts of claims about research, medicine and menopause which I suspect are based more on opinion than on fact. I read twenty-five of this book’s two hundred and seventy-two pages, but that relatively high page count owes more to my lenient mood when I was reading than to the appeal of this book.

The Tourist Trail, by John Yunker

March 15, 2012 1 comment

Some people stop at the water’s edge.

Some keep going…

Biologist Angela Haynes is accustomed to dark, lonely nights as one of the few humans at a penguin research station in Patagonia. She has grown used to the cries of penguins before dawn, to meager supplies and housing, to spending her days in one of the most remote regions on earth. What she isn’t used to is strange men washing ashore, which happens one day on her watch.

The man won’t tell her his name or where he came from, but Angela, who has a soft spot for strays, tends to him, if for no other reason than to protect her birds and her work. When she later learns why he goes by an alias, why he is a refugee from the law, and why he is a man without a port, she begins to fall in love—and embarks on a journey that takes her deep into Antarctic waters, and even deeper into the emotional territory she thought she’d left behind.

Against the backdrop of the Southern Ocean, The Tourist Trail weaves together the stories of Angela as well as FBI agent Robert Porter, dispatched on a mission that unearths a past he would rather keep buried; and Ethan Downes, a computer tech whose love for a passionate activist draws him into a dangerous mission.

www.TheTouristTrail.com

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It’s not often that I find myself reading the books I review here for enjoyment but by page twenty that’s what had happened with The Tourist Trail. I found the background to the opening chapters (the close study of penguins) surprisingly interesting, although I shouldn’t be surprised by that: I’m an ex-Greenpeace groupie and used to keep an extraordinarily large number of poultry and peafowl. I wonder if without that personal interest this book would not have appealed to me so much: because a few more pages in the penguins were taking a back seat in the story and I began to notice problems with the text; and the more I read, the more glaring those problems became.

I found all the usual suspects: too many commas, some of them misplaced; a tendency to overwriting; and a lack of clarity which meant that I had to re-read portions of the text to make sure I had understood it correctly. In a few places time seemed too elastic, and in others events seemed to collapse in on themselves, making it difficult to fully understand how time was passing, or if events were meant to be running concurrently. But the biggest problems I had concerned lack of believable characterisation and motivation: and as I didn’t believe in the people who populated the book, I couldn’t surrender myself to the story.

My main problem was with Angela, who seemed to lack a significant amount of backbone and ethics: despite being described as passionate about the penguins she was studying she barely thought twice about encouraging a handsome stranger to hang about in the penguin habitat — which was strictly off-limits to the public in order to protect the birds — and when the handsome stranger grabbed her and kissed her without warning, and without any apparent attraction or flirtation between them, she barely reacted.

I’m not a fan of writers who characterise women as passive, confused beings; nor do I like reading about men who persist after a woman tells them to stop. Especially when the women who these men persist with suddenly realise (usually halfway through a kiss) that they have wanted to the man to do this all along. It’s lazy, clichéd, and bigoted and no matter how well-intentioned the writer is, or how naive they are about why this is also wrong, or how much they might insist that I’ve missed the point, I think it’s damaging to write such scenes. I read seventy-one of this book’s two hundred and ninety-one pages and despite its promising start I cannot recommend it.

A Salute to SPANISH POETRY, by John Howard Reid

March 8, 2012 5 comments

A Salute to SPANISH POETRY

100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America

rendered into English verse by John Howard Reid

[This book has no back cover copy]

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 A Salute to Spanish Poetry: 100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America Rendered Into English Verse is an anthology of various Spanish poems: some hundreds of years old, others much more contemporary, and they’ve all been translated into English by John Howard Reid. I am a great lover of poetry: it provides an intense literary experience and at its best, poetry can inspire and enthral, but sadly this collection does neither.

Mr. Reid might well be a good speaker of Spanish; he might even be a good, if literal, translator. But he’s either no good at translating poetry; or he has picked some really bad stuff to translate.

The versions of the poems in this anthology are stodgy and dull; they’re full of clichés; they’re free from assonance, alliteration and rhythm; their meanings are often unclear, and despite each one being written by a different author there is little variation of voice or tone across the collection. This translator has neither a light nor a sensitive hand.

You have probably worked out by now that I am not terribly impressed by this book. These poems, read in this English form, lack all sense of grace and significance. But my main concern, when reading this collection, was one of copyright. While the bulk of the poems it contains are out of copyright a few of them were written more recently, which means that when this volume was published they were still protected by copyright and the permission of the authors, or their literary estates, would have been required to use them in this way. And yet there are no acknowledgements in this book; there is no attribution of where the poems were first published. But there is statement which reads “text and photographs copyright 2010 by John Howard Reid”.

Mr. Reid does not have the right to claim that copyright as the work is not primarily his: what he’s done, in putting his own copyright onto this edition in this way, is to imply that he not only translated these poems from the Spanish but that he also wrote those first Spanish texts.

As I see it, Mr. Reid has very few options open to him. He must seek written permission from the literary estates which he has exploited in publishing this book, and if such permissions are not forthcoming he must remove the appropriate pieces from his next edition; and while he’s waiting for such permissions to be granted he must withdraw this edition from sale.

If he does have the permissions required to use these works in this way then he must indicate that in all further copies of this book, and ensure that he acknowledges the authors of these poems appropriately in all future editions of this work, and in all other translations he has published.

Of course, I could be wrong: Mr. Reid might well have reached an agreement with the authors and literary estates concerned that it was fine for him to claim copyright and to use these works without proper attribution: if that’s the case then I apologise unreservedly to him for the comments I’ve made regarding copyright in this review. But I do not apologise for my comments regarding the flat and uninspiring nature of his translations. I read five of this book’s one hundred and forty eight pages, skimmed through a few more, and felt extremely reluctant to read any more of it.

Remix, by Lexi Revellian

March 1, 2012 2 comments

Fun, grit and coiled menace…

Andrew Wrigley

REMIX

Caz Tallis is living her dream, restoring rocking horses in her London workshop.

When shabby but charismatic Joe and his dog turn up on her roof terrace, she is reluctantly drawn into investigating a rock star’s murder from three years before — an unsolved case the police have closed.

Somebody is prepared to kill to prevent it being reopened. Caz needs to find out who, but is her judgement clouding as she falls in love?

Lexi Revellian really can tell a story, with an enviable economy of effort, and this book deserves to go all the way. Excellent stuff.

Elspeth Cooper, author of The Wild Hunt

Great characters, great story, pacy lucid style.

Ali McKay

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Lexi Revellian has a lovely light touch, she’s quick to get to the action, the premise on which she bases Remix is interesting, and her prose rolls along nicely: but all this is overshadowed by a series of basic errors which slow the pace of her work and bounce the reader out of the text, and distance them from the story — which is exactly what writers should try their hardest not to do. This is especially irritating in the case of Ms Revellian, who shows such promise: if she could learn to eradicate such problems from her writing her work would automatically jump up a couple of notches, and if that happens I can see her doing very well indeed.

So, what were the problems I found? The usual suspects, I’m afraid. There were a few instances of inconsistent punctuation, a random capitalisation or two, a few contradictions and some sentences which didn’t quite make sense in the context in which they appeared, which made me wonder if they were lone survivors from an earlier draft. All these things distracted my attention from the text, which is a bad thing: but these things could easily be fixed and they didn’t worry me too much: if they were the only problems with the text they wouldn’t be enough to put off an interested agent or publisher, and they didn’t stop me reading. But two issues kept on popping up, and I found them really troublesome: and they’re much more serious than the other things I’ve listed, as they are likely to be deal breakers for some readers.

Ms Revellian has a fondness for hammering her point home with big chunks of exposition. I understand that sometimes the reader needs to be told things; and that a properly-placed piece of exposition can up the stakes and keep the pace trotting nicely along: but that’s not how Ms Revellian uses exposition, and so the overall effect was to slow the pace to an unacceptable degree.

What I found more troubling was her characters’ lack of proper emotional depth. It meant that I simply couldn’t understand why they often acted as they did, and consequently I didn’t believe that the story would have unfolded the way it did.

For example, the book’s heroine, Caz Tallis, wakes up one morning to find a stranger sleeping on her roof terrace and barely questions it; before we know it she is inviting him in for coffee. Does this character have serious problems in social situations? Is she unaware of how to react to events outside the norm? I couldn’t believe this point and judging by some of the less-favourable reviews Ms Revellian’s work has received on Amazon, I’m not alone. I’m not convinced that anyone could make a living restoring rocking horses (although I understand that this is a hobby of Ms Revellian’s, which is perhaps why she chose to write about it); and [ tiny spoiler alert! ] as Joe turns out to be living under an assumed name, because under his real identity he has been declared dead, I don’t see how he could have completed all of the paperwork required to bring a stray dog back from France, nor why he would have tried to do so bearing in mind the risk of discovery inherent in such an act.

Overall then, a flawed book from a writer with potential. I read 32 pages out of 266 and hope that Ms Revellian resolves these two main issues in her future works, so that I can enjoy them more.

Among Us Women, by Joan Lerner

February 23, 2012 29 comments

There’s no filter on Joan Lerner’s angry, grieving, hopeful heroine. Her emotions bubble just beneath the surface and regularly boil over. Among Us Woman is a sometimes wondrous, often painful labor of love.” – Steward O’Nan, author of the acclaimed novel, Songs for the Missing

“Plotting reminiscent of Susan Isaacs… with the extras of lush interiors, savvy design tips and elegant meal presentations. Lerner confronts controversial topics in her debut novel but she lightens the mood with eye candy.” – Linda Ellis, author of Death at a Dumpster

“Interior Designers will be especially taken with Joan Lerner’s novel, grounded as it is in her expertise. Joan, a past president of NJASID, who then served on the national board of directors, has written a gripping story of three women with differing design careers which provide important contexts for the fast moving plot. –Ria E. Gulian, ASID, CID, Past President NJASID

Joan Lerner tackles some tough women’s issues in her new novel Among Us Women. The three women who share the novel’s pages are very different but hold common ground with which most of us can identify and relate. The author’s insight is compelling and her conclusions thought-provoking. I liked it; you will too.” – Jean Kelchner, author of Backstage at the White House.

An exerpt from Among Us Women, was published in NEWN, New England Writers Network. “An excellent example of set piece scenes. There is plenty of conflict, emotion and motivation.” – Liz Aleshire, (1949-2008), author of 101 Ways You Can Help: How to Offer Comfort and Support to Those Who Are Grieving (Sourcebooks 2009)

This provocative novel is built on the overlapping stories of three women whose professional, marital, political, religious and sexual lives echo social controversies; feminism, abortion, AIDS, of the decade following the mid-eighties. One becomes pregnant through IVF and opts for single motherhood when her homosexual husband deserts her. Another is born again and believes her salvation lies in saving unborn babies intended for abortion. The third, a black feminist has an abortion when her white married lover tells her to “get rid of it.”

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I found punctuation errors throughout Among Us Women, and a marked inconsistency in Ms Lerner’s use of punctuation—check out the back cover copy which I’ve reproduced above to see some of the problems which are typical of this text. Ms Lerner could have avoided this particular problem by employing the services of a good copy-editor because punctuation problems can be corrected: but a lack of competence when it comes to writing can’t be dealt with so easily, and that’s where this book really failed.

While this book isn’t the worst I’ve read for this blog, it does need a lot of work. It’s set in the late 1980s, and the tone of the text reminds me of the slew of books which appeared after The Women’s Room became such a success. It’s dated, and badly, but that’s not the only problem: the dialogue is turgid and unbelievable and chock-full of exposition; there is no characterisation to speak of; and that lack of characterisation makes it very difficult for the reader to care for any of the characters, or to identify with the situations those characters find themselves in. And all this adds up to an unappealing heaviness of tone.

Ms Lerner has chosen a complicated point of view for this book: her three main characters speak in turn, telling their own sides of their overlapping stories. Establishing three distinct voices in one novel takes a skilled writer: Tess Stimpson does it beautifully in The Wife Who Ran Away, but Ms Lerner fails to make it work in this book. Often the only way I could work out which character was driving the narrative was to check with the chapter headings. It’s my view that novel-reading should be a pleasurable experience and not a confusing or difficult one, and this lack of clarity is a significant failure.

The author struggles with transitions, lurching from one event and location to another without pause or redirection; she often slides from one tense to another and back again, sometimes within a single paragraph; and the text is infused with a determination to somehow be worthy which, coupled with the issues that are discussed in this book leads to a slow, dull read.

I read fifteen of this book’s three hundred and fifty nine pages, and find nothing to recommend here.

Mousetrapped, by Catherine Ryan Howard

February 16, 2012 13 comments

Three big dreams, two mouse ears and one J-1 visa. What could possibly go wrong in the happiest place on earth?

When Catherine Ryan Howard decides to swap the grey cloud of Ireland for the clear skies of the Sunshine State, she thinks all of her dreams – working in Walt Disney World, living in the United States, seeing a Space Shuttle launch – are about to come true…

Ahead of her she sees weekends at the beach, mornings by the pool and an inexplicably skinnier version of herself skipping around the Magic Kingdom. But not long into her first day on Disney soil – and not long after a breakfast of Mickey-shaped pancakes – Catherine’s Disney bubble bursts and soon it seems that among Orlando’s baked highways, monotonous mall clusters and world famous theme parks, pixie dust is hard to find and hair is downright impossible to straighten.

The only memoir about working in Walt Disney World, Space Shuttle launches, the town that Disney built, religious theme parks, Bruce Willis, humidity-challenged hair and the Ebola virus, MOUSETRAPPED: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida is the hilarious story of what happened when one Irish girl went searching for happiness in the happiest place on Earth.

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This is one of those reviews which is very difficult for me to write. There’s a lot to praise in Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida; but there’s also a lot to criticise and knowing Catherine Ryan Howard as I do, I am as certain as I can be that she’d rather hear all of my reservations than be fobbed off with a few kind words. So brace yourself, Catherine: this is going to be tough.

Catherine Ryan Howard has an engaging, friendly tone and the story trips along at a reasonable pace. Everything she writes is infused with a lively humour and she has a natural storytelling ability which I’m sure many writers would envy. This already earned her a recommendation for me (so you can stop worrying now, Catherine). She has the basics right: her spelling and grammar are fine, although the punctuation is flawed and inconsistent. But these problems are few, and are nowhere near bad enough to interrupt the flow of her narrative, or to put off a determined agent.

However, there is an indication of problems to come in the back cover copy, which feels a little repetitive and over-long; to then come across phrases from the back cover copy repeated in the first few pages of the book feels a little wrong: I would expect the back cover copy to be its own entity and not a close copy of some of the passages from the book. The opening of this book is not up to scratch: the pages before she reaches Disneyland are too long, too rambling and once more repetitive.

This doesn’t mean that I disliked the book: but I can see how easily (!) the opening could be tightened up and made significantly more absorbing, and how its lack of focus and clarity might well put browsing readers off.

To continue with my criticisms, the humour is at times rather forced; Catherine Ryan Howard’s bleak first few weeks in Orlando made me feel very uncomfortable and unhappy for her despite the jokes she kept right on cracking; and I found her stories rather episodic, as if this were a collection of short stories or articles rather than a continuing memoir. I would have preferred more variation in tone, and more integration of the book’s various strands: I don’t think either is beyond Ms Ryan Howard as she is clearly a confident, intelligent writer. If these points were addressed (a more concise opening, more variation in tone and a better narrative flow) then this book would be very much improved

Where I struggled was with Ms Ryan Howard’s actions. She seemed to crash off on each new venture with little thought or preparation, which at times made me wonder if she was purposely sabotaging herself. It could just be the natural foolhardiness of the young which caused her to believe behave in this way; but I found it infuriating and anxiety-provoking, and that directly affected my enjoyment of this book. I’ll admit that I am an obsessive researcher, and make thorough preparations before I even brush my teeth: so this could be my natural caution showing through.

On the whole, then, an enjoyable read from a humorous and talented writer, which could be much improved with a more stringent edit to improve the pace, tone and flow, but which nevertheless earns a recommendation from me. Well done, Catherine!

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Note: I received this book aeons ago and its review should have appeared much sooner than this. My apologies to Ms Ryan Howard for the delay.

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