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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.

Bastard Husband — A Love Story, by Linda Lou

June 9, 2011 8 comments

MEMOIR

“What happens in Vegas…

… doesn’t often find itself captured in prose as vibrantly as it does in Bastard Husband: A Love Story. On her thrill ride through romance, marriage, and divorce, Linda Lou paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to forge a new life as an ‘ageing nymph’ in Sin city.” ~Megan Edwards, Managing Editor, http://www.Living-Las-Vegas.com

A week after I arrived in Sin City, I attended a divorce support group I found in the local newspaper listed between Cross-Dressers of Las Vegas and Friends and Family of Incarcerated People. (And I thought I had problems.) As I sat among a circle of strangers waiting for my turn to share, I glanced at the Absolutely No Swearing sign hanging from the ceiling and thought, this will be a challenge.

“I’m Linda,” I began, “I have no husband, no job, and you people are my only friends.” Everyone laughed at my pathetic truth. ~LINDA LOU

Balancing poignancy and edgy humour, Linda Lou reflects on the troubled relationship that prompted this story and leads readers through a hodgepodge of emotions as fast as a Vegas buffet—from the sadness of a failed relationship and the questioning of her spiritual convictions to the thrill of exploring the neon nightlife and the triumph of performing stand-up comedy for the first time at age 46.

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Bastard Husband: A Love Story is a memoir of divorce and life in Las Vegas and although I found it perfectly readable and mostly error-free, I’m afraid that I didn’t warm to the narrator. Some of the scenes she described were terribly sad and her ex-husband’s treatment of her was abusive; and yet she chose to tell her story in a joke-filled style which stripped the poignancy from her words and instead made the book a brittle and uncomfortable read. She also has a habit of hammering her points home, which again reduces the effectiveness of the text; and she needs to brush up on her comma-use to, as she often uses them when they’re not required and so slows her narrative.

It’s so close to being good: but because of the problems I encountered I read just thirteen pages out of two hundred and sixty. I’d like to see this book rewritten to introduce more variety of tone, and then edited stringently. Some more positive scenes would be a useful addition, as would a little more empathy and a little less desperate humour. If that work were carried out this could well become a tight, enjoyable read: but as it is, it’s too slow and laboured, with a constant background of unresolved sadness which made me feel quite uncomfortable.

The Modern Confessions Of St August Stine: August Stine

May 19, 2011 8 comments

The True Story …

of a renegade minister and his controversial journey through depression and religion. This unique story details emotional breakthroughs that will make you laugh and cry. The author has chosen to remain anonymous; thus he uses the pen name — August Stine

If you are down, this will lift you up

If you are up, this will inspire you

If you are in-between, this will stimulate you

psychology/self-help/religion/spirituality

Rated PG! Oh Gee! & My Goodness!

I can’t say I much enjoyed The Modern Confessions of Saint August Stine: it contains all the usual subjects—two hyphens are routinely used where em-dashes are required, there are a few oddly-placed ellipses, and far too many jumbled paragraphs; but I’m afraid that the big problem with this book lies in its author’s writing style.

Mr. Stine writes in very short sentences, and he tells the reader everything that happens and almost never shows; and this brisk, expositional style results in a text with almost no emotional depth despite its troubling subject matter of divorce, emotional breakdown, and loss of faith.

What this means, of course, is that the reader is hard-pushed to empathise with the story before her, or with the characters which appear, and without empathy reading is very unsatisfying. We need to be emotionally involved in a book to enjoy it and I’m afraid that this book left me feeling completely disinterested.

How to fix it? Editing won’t be enough. The writer has to slow down, and take more risks with his writing. He needs to explore things more, reveal more of himself, and show us events unfolding instead of telling us everything as quickly as he can. He clearly has a story to tell: but at the moment his rush to tell it prevents the reader from getting fully absorbed in it, and that’s a shame.

I read nine pages out of one hundred and eighty three and felt exhausted by them. I’m afraid I cannot recommend this book.

The Faith Of A Child: Stefan G Lanfer

August 26, 2010 1 comment

Preparing for fatherhood? Freaked out? Help is here.

Playwright Stefan Lanfer has penned a vital new book on the struggles of dads-to-be.

When a woman prepares for motherhood, other women guide her on her way. Not so a dad-to-be, who gets pats on the back, corny jokes, or vague assurances he’ll do fine. Until now, his best hope was by-moms-for-moms baby books–a gap filled by Stefan Lanfer’s The Faith of a Child and Other Stories of Becoming and Being a Dad, in which the author chronicles his own journey to, and into fatherhood, lending a comforting and humorous peek into the vagaries and joys of being a dad.

According to Lanfer, “When my wife was pregnant, I was STRESSED out, and the guys around me were no help–until, just in time, I hosted a group of dads at our home. I fed them dinner, and they fed me their stories.” As he listened, says Lanfer, “I got inside the head space of a dad, and, finally, I felt ready.”

To pay forward this gift of stories, Lanfer shares his own in The Faith of a Child. To dads-to-be, Lanfer says, “If you want tips, tactics, and advice for childbirth and parenting, you’ve got dozens of choices. But, if you want real stories that actually let you picture fatherhood, The Faith of a Child is for you.

The Faith Of A Child is composed of a series of vignettes from Lanfer’s life with his wife and, eventually, two small children. He writes in blank verse, which I didn’t find particularly successful: his writing is neither tight enough nor lyrical enough to shine in this form (to see blank verse working well, read Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, a book I adore). And while he presents this as a book of stories to prepare men for fatherhood I’m not convinced that fathers will find the stories collected here at all useful: most are without any real resolution or message, and far too personal to Lanfer to inspire or instruct anyone else.

It’s a shame, as there are occasional glimpses of beauty: for example, the title story is touching and rather lovely. But the few gems there are are muddied by Lanfer’s rather unfocused style, and they’re hidden among a lot of other stories which only invoked a reaction of “so what?” from me, I’m afraid.

A reasonable effort, then, let down by a lack of clarity and focus. While I think it’s wonderful that the author finds his family life so compelling, he really needs to look at his stories with a harsher, more critical eye in order to recognise which are worth working on and which should be kept as a private, more personal record. I read thirty-two pages out of one hundred and fifty-five.

In The Land Of Cotton: Martha A Taylor

March 25, 2010 5 comments

Political Freedom & Security – Civil Rights

SLAVERY IS MORE THAN CHAINS AND SHACKLES
SLAVERY IS A STATE OF MIND

Immerse yourself in this highly anticipated political docu-drama set in the Deep South amidst the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement.

Martha was a young white girl living in the Deep South, inundated with the racist sentiments of the times. But Martha’s natural curiosity and generous heart led her to question this racial divide. When she discovered a primitive Negro family living deep in the woods near her house, everyone’s life changed for ever.

Take the journey of a lifetime alongside Martha as she forges relationships that lead to self discovery and a clearer understanding of the world around her. In the Land of Cotton provides an outstanding snapshot of life in the South during those troubled times – a snapshot everyone should take a close look at, regardless of era or color.

The year was 1956.

I have a feeling that there’s a fascinating story lurking on the pages of In the Land of Cotton: the problem is that it’s buried beneath a lot of clumsy writing and careless mistakes, most of which could be cleared up by a careful edit and a thoughtful rewrite. Several sentences were so poorly-written that I had to stop and reread them in order to understand them fully; and there were a few places where entirely the wrong words had been used. The foreword is particularly badly-written and does the book no favours—I would drop it entirely; but if the writer is determined to keep it then she’d be wise to at least explain who its author is, and why his opinion of her and this book is significant: because although he’s clearly significant to her, I don’t know who he is or how he is connected to the book.

Overall, then, this book is a missed opportunity: its writer rushed into publication before she was really ready for it. Her writing is not yet good enough to be published, and her editing skills will have to be far sharper than they are right now if she wants to make the best of her work.

If she had worked harder on learning her craft and been a little less eager to get into print she’d have done herself and her readers a big favour: as it is, the book just isn’t good enough. I read seventeen pages of In the Land of Cotton, and I closed this book feeling saddened: the writer could have done so much better if she had only taken a little more time.

A Different Kind Of Sentinel: Sir E J Drury II

October 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Personal Memoir

Having grown up in eastern Missouri, Sir E. J. entered the Navy after a brief stint at the US Naval Academy. For two long years did he struggle, in and out of sleep, with the true enemy of mankind — the Beast. And for the past twenty has he struggled to give form to this book, that you, the reader, might decide to join the fray and save humanity from its self and the destructive side of its animal nature.

A TREK THROUGH THE DARK SIDE IN SEARCH OF SOUL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

“…a truly remarkable memoir that is as much about the author as it is about the soul and their eventual reunion…”

“Haven’t you heard? The Beast has been unleashed.”
“What beast?” you ask.
“Why that part of Nature which still defies Consciousness.”
“I don’t understand,” you exclaim.
“You will by the time you finish reading this story. Trust me.”
“Why should I?” You inquire.
“You have your soul to free and heaven to gain, and little time for either.”

“Once I started reading the book, I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it. You go where no one has ever dared. And for that you are to be commended.” David Stewart, Stewart Publishing

“It may very well go on to become the book of the century, or for that matter, the book of the millennium.” Harold Terbrock, Retired Carpenter

Sir E. J. Drury II (who is credited as the author of A Different Kind of Sentinel) has a pretty good grasp of punctuation overall, although he uses far too many commas which has the effect of stopping the flow of his words and giving his whole text a choppy, staccato beat. And this over-use of commas is part of a much larger problem: the style that this writer favours.

He habitually inverts his sentences and uses a dated and particular vocabulary. These two stylistic quirks combine to give his writing a dialect-like air, and the closest I can get to describing the origins of that dialect is to suggest that it’s a sort of pidgin-Biblical. It’s nowhere near as rich, textural or magnificent as the text of the King James version, though, and rather than accentuating and emphasising Drury’s text, these linguistic quirks of his only serve to knock his many writerly failures into sharper focus.

Drury’s uncomfortable style, his frequent and perplexing changes of tense, the many nonsensical sentences that I found, and his insistence on recounting great swathes of his own dreams within the text, meant that I read just five of this book’s two hundred and eighty six pages. Sadly, this is another self-published book which fails to please.

The Shipwreck Of A Nation: H Peter Nennhaus

September 3, 2009 2 comments

Early on the morning of September 3 1939, the British ambassador to Berlin delivered a letter to the German government which stated that unless the German government announced plans to withdraw its invasion force from Poland by 11am that day, Britan would declare war against Germany.

Germany ignored the British ultimatum and so, at 11.15 that morning, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister of the time, announced: “I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

The French government presented a similar message to Berlin at 12.30, giving Germany until 17.00 to withdraw its troops from Poland. This was also ignored, and the French government also declared war against Germany.

In the six years of fighting which followed, thousands of soldiers and civilians died in the fighting: and over seven milllion people were exterminated in the German death-camps through starvation, torture and intentional neglect.

Those death-camps were run by people who believed in the German regime. And what they did cannot be excused by any reasonable human being.

History/Europe

THE MIND-SET OF THE GERMANS
AND OTHER SECRETS OF WORLD WAR II

This memoir portrays the attitudes of a nation caught in political crisis and devastating war. The author vividly recalls his youth in Berlin before and during WWII amidst political upheaval, love, hope, and terror. The reader witnesses the appalling tyranny of Stalin in the 1930s and learns of the Germans’ conviction that they were waging a righteous and desperate struggle against the Soviet empire. The impact of this upsetting story derives from aspects of that war, which hitherto have remained unknown or been misconceived and which cast the moral equation of that conflict into a more sober light. The reader will walk in German shoes and experience the full range of their emotions, beliefs, and thoughts. The understanding of the mood then prevailing in Europe is aided by scholarly chapters of historical data that weave through the narrative of childhood, war, and ruin. In exploring the enduring mystery surrounding the root causes of the two world wars and Germany’s final destruction, the author reaches thought-provoking conclusions.

For those seeking to know what in reality transpired in the German soul during that period, this is one of only few, unbiased sources available.

H. Peter Nennhaus grew up in Berlin during WW II and became an American citizen in 1961. He is a retired surgeon and lives outside Chicago. Among his various interests, the study of history, especially of the 20th century, has been an enduring focus.

Peter Nennhaus is a fluent writer and his text is relatively clean: I found few errors in this book compared to most of the others I’ve reviewed here, although his spelling does sometimes go awry (I found both “furor” in place of “furore” and “guaranty” when “guarantee” was required on page three and no, I’m sure that first one wasn’t Freudian at all); and there were a few careless errors: the occasional misused word and some random capitalisations have also crept in (but as that latter problem could have its root in Nennhaus’s first language, I didn’t include those errors in my tally).

In this book Nennhaus aims to present a new view of World War II, and of the German people during that period of history. He states in his back-cover copy that this book “is one of only few, unbiased sources available” and while I admire his confidence in making that statement, I have to question it: thousands of books and articles have been written about the war and Germany’s role in it and while some are clearly biased, many more give a reasoned and dispassionate account of those horrific times. That Nennhaus apparently thinks otherwise reveals more about his own bias, I fear: and the more I read of this book, the more my fears were realised. Nennhaus suggests that it was Europe’s jealousy of Germany’s excellence which was the real cause of World War II; and he rationalises anti-Semitism in a way I find disturbing. I finished reading his book when I came across this little plum, in which Nennhaus suggests that we shouldn’t judge too harshly the German leaders of the time:

Who could accurately guess how you or I would have acted, had we been seized by fury and obsession while possessing the executive force to give the frantic orders?

While I’ll admit to having a bit of a temper and can remember having said a few pretty nasty things while in the grip of it, I can be pretty sure that no matter how powerful and angry I become I will never attempt to annexe several neighbouring countries through the use of force, nor will I order the debasement, torture and extermination of millions of people in the most vile ways imaginable.

Overall then, The Shipwreck of a Nation: Germany: An Inside View is very deceptive. It relies on fallacies and denial to sustain its central premise; and the author’s fluency and persuasive tone cannot compensate for the ugliness of his opinions or beliefs (some of which might stem from his time spent fighting in the German army). I read twelve pages, and cannot recommend this book on any level.

Lord Of The Rams: Ronan Smith

August 20, 2009 16 comments

Finally, the greatest story never told gets told.

Join one man for the adventure of his life and, in doing so, experience growing up in rural 1980s Ireland. Meet this man’s eccentric group of friends, follow his escapades throughout Ireland and beyond, and gain valuable insight into the life of a lord … Lord of the Rams.

What Munterconnaught’s book critics are saying:

“A great present to give to somebody you don’t like.” – Shane Brady

“I’ll buy two copies. F*cking brilliant.” – Eugene Tighe

“The worst pile of shite I’ve ever read.” – Trevor Geraghty

Ronan Smith’s Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told has an interesting illustration on its cover and it’s a pleasant-enough read: but it’s a very episodic, built from a series of short anecdotes which are connected only by the characters they feature. There is little flow through the text; instead we moved from anecdote to anecdote via chunks of exposition and this lack of narrative arc means that the reader has no motivation to keep reading: it’s all too “samey” and provides no tension or climax.

The author has a slapdash approach to punctuation which doesn’t help: his use of dashes is spectacularly inconsistent, particularly in the acknowledgements; and he really needs to decide if he’s going to hyphenate “smart-ass” or not, rather than alternate between the two forms. There were several instances where the writing was muddled and imprecise: I could usually work out what was meant, but sometimes could not be sure. On page nine, for example, I found this sentence: “Standing beside his mother, Rams stared in amazement at a woman unlike he had ever seen before”. This is not good writing, and from my brief read and a quick flick through, it’s typical of the entire book.

Overall, then, this read more as a first draft than as a publishable book. It needs restructuring to provide a proper sense of growth throughout the narrative; it needs to be rewritten so that the anecdotes seem less isolated and provide a sense of growth and climax. The characterisation could definitely be improved; and it needs a strong copy-edit to deal with all those careless mistakes. The clichéd subtitle does the book no favours; and the lamentably weak back cover copy could have been written for all sorts of books. I read just eight pages out of the 215 which make up the story.

Not Remembered, Never Forgotten: Bob Hafetz

June 25, 2009 2 comments

“On a compelling journey searching for his family of origin, Bob Hafetz explores the emotional ride that adoptees take while searching for their birth families. His ability to express his feelings make this profound book a primer for everyone who wants to understand underlying issues for adoptees. A beautiful book that you will not want to put down.”

Not Remembered Never Forgotten is in desperate need of a stringent line-edit. The text is far too often vague, confusing or reliant on opinion or assumption rather than research or hard fact; a couple of sentences are so poorly-written they are nonsensical; and in one particular case it’s stated that people only adopt because they can’t have biological children, which simply isn’t the case. A strong edit would resolve all of these problems and produce a tighter, more coherent book with greatly-improved pacing and flow.

Then there are the careless errors: there is a punctuation error in the subtitle; a spelling mistake in the quote which is used to introduce the book; and several typos which really should have been corrected before this book was published. It’s a shame because despite all of the problems I’ve listed this is a reasonably well-written book which isn’t nearly as bad as many of the others I’ve reviewed here. I read as far as the tenth page, and I was disappointed not to have to read further.

Refined In The Furnace Of Affliction: John McCulloch

May 28, 2009 4 comments

UNFORESEEN TRAGEDIES LEADS TO A MORE MEANINGFUL LIFE

John McCulloch’s oldest son received a head injury at birth, re-sulting in blindness. A second injury at age 28, resulted in his being confined to a nursing home for life. This book is about how these afflictions and others led one family to a positive result.

Refined in the Furnace of Affliction is John McCulloch’s account of both his own life and the life of his son John, who received a head injury at birth and was subsequently disabled. There’s an insistent strand of Christianity and prayer in this book, and a strong focus on the need for family life, and it’s obvious that McCulloch is passionate and devoted to all of these things. Sadly, he isn’t a good writer and that lack of expertise means that this book is a flat, dull read.

Most of the pages reminded me of the journals I used to keep as a child: “I got up and then I had my breakfast and then I brushed my teeth and went to school”. It’s all tell and no show and it’s very disorganised, too: in the middle of what should be a heartbreaking tale of the birth of his disabled son, McCulloch abruptly breaks into an account of how his wife got a good deal on a car.

This is a very badly-written book which I wish I could have reviewed more favourably. I read only eleven of its one hundred and fourteen pages.

"We’ll Always Be Pals": Tom McManus

April 16, 2009 12 comments

“We’ll Always Be Pals” are the last words my father said to me before he died. The youngest of his six children, he taught me everything there is to know about how to be a man in this world. He should know, after the life he lived. Born in 1920, Gene McManus witnessed some of the most historic events in our country’s history. A product of the Great Depression, he was a football star, a boxer, and a B-24 Liberator pilot and POW during World War II.

My story is a small one. Out of football for two full seasons after a glorified college career, I had left my football dreams behind me until I got a call out of the clear blue sky. The man who taught me how to play the game was all the inspiration I ever needed to realise a life long held dream.

“We’ll Always Be Pals” is ultimately the story of a father and son who were fifty years apart in age yet ended up best of friends.

“We’ll Always Be Pals”: The Last Words of a Dying Father and a True Hero! is part memoir, part biography, as Tom McManus tells both his life story and his father’s. It’s a potentially touching story—McManus’s brief career in pro-football was hampered by injury, and his father was a prisoner of war—but I’m afraid that it didn’t engage me. The writing is clunky and pedestrian, I found several sentences which didn’t quite make sense, there were a few oddly-capitalised words and a whole rash of extraneous commas. I read just eleven pages of text out of a total of 281 pages in order to find my fifteen errors, and wish that this story had been more strongly told.

Straight From The Horse’s Heart: R T Fitch

March 24, 2009 8 comments

Horses can’t talk, but they can speak if you listen. And in Straight from the Horse’s Heart: A Spiritual Ride through Love, Loss, and Hope, R. T. Fitch translates what he has learned while listening to horses. In fact, the author is not so much a horse whisperer as he is a horse listener. From the horse’s mouth to our ears, he beautifully captures the essence of the language of horses and the special relationship between horse and human. As dramatic as it is inspiring, his insights on life, love, and survival are echoes of the windswept mane and beating hooves of a wild mare and the calm stillness of a foal. Together these melodic, often poetic stories find blessings in the eye of the storm and celebrate the quietude of reflection and inner peace.

When I started to read this book I expected to dislike it: I don’t do well with sentimentality, nor with those “tragic-about-brave” tabloid-fodder stories that so often form around animals and those who rescue them.

Instead, I found a book which is, at its start at least, heart-warming and full of a very particular charm. It is simply written and very accessible: but the text needs a stiff edit as it’s let down by a good few careless mistakes in punctuation and structure which could easily have been addressed, which prevented me from reading past page twenty-five.

What worries me more, though, is the direction that the book eventually takes. It is episodic, built from thirty-five short standalone pieces: but while the early chapters discuss the author’s work with horses with great simplicity and charm the later pieces are rather more surreal, and take the form of conversations with horses in turmoil, several of which are written from the horse’s points of view. I did not find these pieces convincing or credible: and they let down the rest of the writing, I’m afraid.

I suspect that the author would have had a good chance of finding a mainstream publisher if he had only written a different book: despite the errors that I spotted he writes well, seems to have a natural sense of pacing, and I’ll bet he has plenty of stories to tell. I’d strongly advise him to consider writing a book which describes all the various horses he had helped over the years, and discusses the many challenges that each horse presented, and trying for a mainstream deal next time.

Girl Without A Country: Rosemary Schulga

February 5, 2009 2 comments

A rare intimate account of a resourceful girl’s adventures as she sets out on her own in a quest for knowledge and freedom. It is an inspiring story of hardship, courage, and hope, told with wit and charm. Born stateless in a village in Germany, without any citizenship, the girl without a country has to satisfy the demands of the law for non-citizens. She seeks a better life by immigrating to Australia, but not before falling in love with an American soldier. Their touching love story develops across the oceans. Trying to obtain a visa to visit her love in America, she is forced to return to Germany to have her passport for foreigners extended. The irony is that she has to be in Germany first before she can receive permission to return to Germany. A girl without a country has no right to travel. She manages the impossible by taking, without proper documentation and without resources, a remarkable journey from Australia to Germany, travelling through Japan, Hong Kong, Bangkok, India, and Turkey. The reader is held in suspense as, against all odds, she finally succeeds in her quest. Readers may more deeply appreciate their own citizenship after reading this book.

While I don’t doubt that the author has had a more-than-usually difficult life, I’m afraid that Girl Without a Country did nothing to help me sympathise with her.

Judging from the back cover copy, it’s unlikely that English is her first language and so it’s possible that much of the clumsiness in the text is due to an over-literal translation from German to English: but as you know, I judge books here against the standards of mainstream, commercial publishing and so won’t accept any such excuses.

There were many careless errors: on page six I found both “proof reading” and “proofreading” in the same paragraph; and then on page nine there was this sentence: “We were nine children in our family, and I was the youngest of the five girls, having three younger brothers.” I realise it’s possible that the author had an older brother too, or that maths isn’t one of her strong points: but errors like this are not going to endear this story to anyone.

The combination of clumsy phrasing, the heavy use of cliché, and the abundance of careless errors took me to the third page of the main narrative—page nine in the book.

Essays On Life (Volume I): Nicolette Bethel

November 18, 2008 5 comments

In May 2003, Nicolette Bethel was approached by the then editor of the Nassau Guardian, Larry Smith, to write a series of articles for the newspaper. Bethel chose to write a series of observations about Bahamian life, drawing on her training as an anthropologist. Essays on Life is still published in the Nassau Guardian on a weekly basis, examining topics as diverse as orality, inequality, the arts, government, and culture.

When I first received this book for review, my heart sank. These essays on Bahamina life were first published in the Nassau Guardian and not only is this book not a genre I’d usually consider, but it’s a genre I felt little connection with. I know little about the Bahamas; I’ve never visited the country; and I prefer fiction to non-fiction, so I assumed that I’d find this book hard work. I was completely wrong.

The essays provide a fascinating insight into Bahamian life and culture. Their origin is sometimes a little obvious: they’re opinion-pieces, and so sometimes they are a little overstated for collection in book form. But that didn’t detract from their charm: it just changed the way that I read the book. Instead of reading it in a couple of long sittings I read them as they were originally intended to be read, just one essay at a time, and found myself looking forward to each new episode.

If I have any criticism at all, it’s for the way the limitations of column-writing have restricted Nicolette Bethel’s natural style. I’d really like to see her extend her scope a little by writing a few longer pieces which rely less on rhetorical sweep, and more on the subtle character observations that she does so well.

As for the errors: well. These essays were properly edited for publication, and it shows. I have a small issue with the formatting: there’s an extra line of white space between the paragraphs which isn’t usual, and which I don’t like—but it’s used consistently, and I won’t condemn this book on what boils down to a matter of taste. There’s an extra space before a hyphen on page 18, which is a little careless: but it’s the only mistake I found, and it didn’t lessen the appeal of this charming collection one bit. There might have been more errors but I can’t be sure: I enjoyed the book so much that my editor-mode switched off, and I repeatedly found myself absorbed by her apparently simple narrative style.

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