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Posts Tagged ‘peculiar layout’

Never Mind Yaar: K Mathur

September 28, 2011 6 comments

Never Mind Yaar

K. Mathur’s vivid descriptions bring the college and its students to life. Immensely pleasurable and thought provoking.

When longtime friends Binaifer and Louella meet Shalini Dyal at Gyan Shakti College, Gyan full knowledge and Shakti full strength, a true friendships that transcends cultural and religious backgrounds is born. Louella is a Christian, Binaifer, Parsi and Shalini, a Hindu.

“To me the book is a mixture of history, cultural information and a lovely story all rolled into one.”

- Sarah, UK

“I was in a style trick about my college days after reading about the three friends from different backgrounds.”

Snigdha, India

“Khoty has written a beautiful story… I dare anyone to read Never Mind Yaar and not come away with some insight.”

- Rita’s Book Reviews

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This writer has a lively and individual voice and handles her male characters quite well: they are all distinct and believable, and work well together. Her female characters aren’t so finely drawn, however, and the writer’s tendency to head-hop makes the scenes in which they appear jumbled and confusing. It’s a shame, as there’s something I like about this writer’s voice: but the writing wasn’t clear enough for me to be to recommend it.

There was a scattering of punctuation problems; and Never Mind Yaar would be much easier to read if the paragraphs were indented; but for me, the overwhelming problems with this book are the writer’s tendency to overwriting, and the lack of clarity in her prose. I’d like to see what Ms Mathur could achieve once she gains a better understanding of point of view; and once she learns how to edit more ruthlessly, with clarity and pace in mind.

I was also disappointed by the slowness with which the story developed. I read fifteen of this book’s two hundred and thirty-two pages and no real conflict had been established by then: all I knew about the story is that it takes place in a university with a grumpy administrator, and that the young women who have just arrived are pleased to be there.

A quicker start to this book would grasp the reader’s attention, and make them eager to read more. If this were combined with a crisper, cleaner prose style this book might well have great promise: as it is, it’s a slow, confusing read which gives just the smallest hints that with a little more guidance this writer might do right rather well.

Root Cause: James W Crissman

September 21, 2011 10 comments

When Bruce Dinkle takes up the cause of eating only local food, his zeal badly exceeds his judgement. After alienating his family by enforcing a strict locavore and urban agriculturist lifestyle, he abandons them by bicycle on a quixotic quest to learn where food comes from. He quickly becomes enmeshed in a small Michigan farming community where he goes to work for a large crop farmer, meets a sagacious veterinarian, and falls for a randy goat lady, all part of a sprawling cast of characters who enliven this often hilarious, mix of food, family, sex, and a little violence down on the farm. Think Michael Pollan meets James Herriot and Carl Hiaasen.

James W. Crissman is a veterinary pathologist and former large animal veterinarian. He is the author of a 1998 Pudding House Publications chapbook, Jailbait in Holy Water, and has won numerous prizes for his poetry. His short story, Wallhangers, won the 2007 Dirt Rag literature contest. Root Cause: the story of a food fight fugitive is his first novel. Jim and his veterinarian wife Jill live on a small farm in central Michigan where they’ve grown three children and much of their food for more than twenty years.

“We know there is tragedy and drama in obsession, but sometimes we forget that there can be something wonderfully comic in it, too. James Crissman reminds us of this with Bruce Dinkle, the richly weird protagonist of ROOT CAUSE, who sacrifices everything from family to dignity in his effort to find the right way to live. He is Don Quixote for our time — silly, misguided, and just maybe absolutely necessary.”

Keith Taylor, Creative Writing Coordinator, University of Michigan and author of If the World Becomes so Bright.

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There is much to like about Root Cause: its characters are reasonably well-drawn, the premise is interesting, and it’s full of black humour which is quite delicious at times. But all these things are overshadowed — not to a great degree, but enough to be significant — by problems which could easily have been fixed with a rigorous edit.

There were a few typos and punctuation errors: Mr. Crissman is over-fond of commas; and he is prone to overwriting and to writing complex sentences with long words when simpler and shorter would be better. Many of the pages that I read were given over entirely to exposition, and to telling the reader what was happening and how the characters felt, rather than showing us the nuances that makes reading so much more rewarding.

The story didn’t actually get going until page seventeen, which is far too late: and by that time I’d already been lectured at several times as Mr. Crissman banged his point home and then repeated himself, just to be sure we got it. Scenes which should have been sharp and pacey (for example, pages twenty six to twenty nine, if anyone’s counting) felt rushed and flat, and were unsatisfying as a result.

These points are not minor but they could be addressed by a ruthless rewrite. It would vastly improve this book which, despite all the flaws I’ve listed, has great potential. I came so close to recommending it but decided not to because there are so many issues with it: but I’m convinced that beneath all the clutter there’s a good novel here, from a clever writer who is bound to get better. I read thirty pages out of this book’s three hundred and eight. Mr. Crissman mighth like to read Alice Monroe and Carol Shields so that he can see what to aim for: and I look forward to watching his talent develop in the years to come.

The Milieu Principle: Malcolm Franks

August 10, 2011 5 comments

Mike Daniels cared little for close human relations. He cared even less about the environment.
Why should he? His world already provided him with all the things that mattered in life. Things were about to change.

A mysterious package containing a memory stick arrives, with a request to meet an old school friend in an isolated spot. Mike is unaware what the memory stick holds. He soon discovers, however, that the owners want it back, at any price. Now his very existence is at risk and he must run.
Using a false identity, Matt Durham, he finds sanctuary in Canada. In this new life he learns about friendship, comes to appreciate the environment all around. He even believes he finds love. So Matt Durham chooses to close his mind to what brought him to this safe haven.

But, when he is found, Matt Durham is faced with a stark choice. Does he run again, or fight back against his enemies? In truth, he has only one option. Matt realises his only salvation lies in taking on the overwhelming odds ranged against him. To do this he must cross the globe undetected, suffering loss and betrayal along the way. He would also have to learn how to kill.

He had to, because he wanted to live. And the lives of billions of other people depended upon his survival.

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My reading of The Milieu Principle got off to a very poor start when I looked at the back cover copy, which is rendered almost illegible by being printed in dark greenish-grey on a black background. My two sons are both colourblind and they couldn’t even see any text on that back cover.  I suspect that this book is aimed primarily at a male readership; and far more males are colourblind than females. It seems to me to be foolish for the writer to risk alienating so much of his target market because of a simple design choice.

The book has a reasonably interesting premise; the punctuation is mostly okay, there’s not much wrong with the grammar and the plot seems clear enough. And perhaps that’s the problem: this book is okay, but it isn’t spectacular.

The story is let down by wooden dialogue, exposition-by-dialogue, and an assumption that the reader needs to be told all sorts of unimportant details to help the story unfold. For example, I’m not sure why the writer chose to mention that the main character’s freezer is steel-coloured and upright: knowing this adds nothing to the story or to the characterisation of anyone involved. This fondness for unnecessary detail leads to several convoluted and confusing paragraphs; and makes a slow and laborious reading.

Not that this text is beyond hope: it has potential, but that potential is hidden behind a lot of very basic mistakes. If the writer were to revise this book very thoroughly and question the purpose of every sentence, he could make it much more readable. If he were to cut all of that redundant detail, make sure that everything he’d written meant what he thought it meant, and get rid of much of the exposition, then this book would be hugely improved. As it is, it’s a tired read, full of errors and confusion, with little to recommend it. I read just eight of its five hundred and ten printed pages.

High on a Mountain: Tommie Lyn

July 28, 2011 5 comments

As a boy, Ailean MacLachlainn dreamed of living an adventurous life and longed to be a celebrated warrior of his clan. Until a shy smile and a glance from Mùirne’s blue eyes turned his head and escalated his rivalry with Latharn into enmity and open conflict.

When Ailean became a man, his boyhood dreams faded. Until Bonnie Prince Charlie came to reclaim his father’s throne. The Jacobite loyalties of Ailean’s clan chief involved the MacLachlainns in the uprising and set Ailean on a course toward a destiny of which he could never have dreamed.

What happens when a man’s dreams turn to dust? And when a man loses everything, does he have what it takes to go on?

High on a Mountain is the stirring tale of one man’s remarkable journey through life; a story of adventure and love…of faith, loss and redemption.

About the Author
Tommie Lyn resides in the beautiful Florida panhandle with her husband of 48 years (who was her high school sweetheart). She spends part of each day engrossed in the lives of the characters who people her novels.

Visit her on the ‘net: http://tommielyn.com

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There’s a lot of action and emotion in High on a Mountain, which is usually a good thing; and I found only minor problems with punctuation and grammar which, compared to most of the books I review here, were inconsequential.

Where the book really failed for me was in the writer’s style. Ms Lyn is rather fond of extraneous detail; she has a tendency to list her characters’ actions instead of showing her readers the action is unfolding. There’s a tendency to hammer plot points home by telling the reader what is happening two or three times: and there are a few very clunky transitions from one point-of-view to another which made the text quite difficult to follow at times.

What really put me off this book, though, was the stereotypical Hollywood treatment that the author gave to the Highlands and its people; and the lack of freshness present in the storyline and in the writer’s style. This book has a dull and dated flavour, I’m afraid, from its tin-of-shortbread tartan cover to its two-feuding-men-both-fall-for-the-same-girl storyline. It’s a valiant attempt but despite the relatively clean text, it didn’t work for me. I read thirty-four out of its three hundred and seventy-nine pages and doubt that any editor worth her fee would be able to bring this up to a good enough standard.

The Rewritten Word: How To Sculpt Literary Art No Matter The Genre: Aggie Villanueva

July 14, 2011 8 comments

“This is really excellent advice and something many authors need. I know it will be extremely helpful not only to beginning writers but to experienced writers as well.” ~Lillie Ammann, Author and Editor at lillieammann.com

The only How-To-Write book that has nothing to do with writing. It’s all about rewriting.

Whittle away what buries the art of your words beneath pulp, no matter the topic, no matter the genre.

Aggie Villanueva is a bestselling novelist, author publicist, blogger and critically acclaimed photographic artist represented by galleries nationwide, including Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. For decades peers have described Aggie as a whirlwind that draws others into her vortex.

And no wonder. She was a published author at Thomas Nelson before she was 30, taught at nationwide writing conferences, and over the years worked on professional product launches with the likes of Denise Cassino, a foremost Joint Venture Specialist. Aggie founded Visual Arts Junction blog February 2009 and by the end of the year it was voted #5 at Predators & Editors in the category “Writers’ Resource, Information & News Source.” Under the Visual Arts Junction umbrella she also founded  VAJ Buzz Club –where members combine their individual marketing power, and Promotion á la Carte where authors purchase promotional services only as needed.

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The Rewritten Word is a small book with few pages; and those pages are printed in a large font, making this book a very short read. But sadly it’s not an absorbing read, nor is it an easy one.

Despite telling us that we must cut all extraneous discussion from our work, the author makes most of her own points several times; despite banging on about the importance of ensuring that our writing is crystal clear most of the writing in this book is verbose and confusing; and despite the author insisting at length that we mustn’t allow our writing to be boring… well. You get the picture.

The claim on the back cover copy that this is “the only How-To-Write book that has nothing to do with writing. It’s all about rewriting” sounds clever but it isn’t true: what about Browne and King’s wonderful Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, or Strunk and White’s useful but somewhat dictatorial The Elements of Style?

Ms Villanueva’s attempts to rewrite other people’s rambling paragraphs in a more clear and concise style resulted in text which was almost unintelligible; she provides a long quote from someone else’s website which takes up nearly five pages out of her book’s sixty pages (plus six lines in order to provide a web-link to the original blog—twice); but she provides no acknowledgement of the original author’s permission for her to do so, and I have to wonder if she even asked. I could go on but it feels a little like shooting fish in a barrel.

I read thirteen pages out of sixty, all the time wondering if Ms Villanueva would get to her point or write something sensible: I was disappointed. There are much better books to be had about writing and editing: for example, my friend Nicola Morgan’s fabulous Write To Be Published, which is better than this in all sorts of ways.

Persephone’s Seeds: Dayna Hubenthal

June 30, 2011 4 comments

When I was a child I sat in a boat at the headwater of two rivers careening together.

One river made it fast way down a steep slope, singing through deep gorges, bouncing over and around boulders and rocky bottoms. It was lively and deep green with jaunty white wave caps and spoke with a joyous voice.

The other river, old and heavily ladened with dirt, had crossed flatter, used-up lands. It spoke of outrage in measured tones. All it said was edged with melancholy; its voice resonant and deep. It lumbered it’s brown way into the confluence.

I sat in the boat and watched them mate – so unlikely and so passionately. Their songs morphed into one voice – rich, powerful, agile, with clarity enough to force a moan and sigh and flush from every one of us in that boat. The new river took us for a very dangerous ride.

Here I am again at a confluence. For the third time I am life careening into death. For me, death number three is turning out to be the most dangerous ride of all.

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I found many punctuation errors in Persephone’s Seeds: for example, hyphens are used when dashes are required (I counted this as one error, but found nearly ten instances), missing punctuation marks, and misused punctuation marks. But the bigger problem here lies in the writing, which was complex in all of the wrong ways.

The punctuation problems meant that several sentences were reduced to confusion, and while this sometimes had great comedic effect it mostly just interfered with the flow of my reading. The author frequently contradicts herself, often within single sentences; and in her search for a free-spirited style she has sacrificed clarity of meaning. And why no page numbers? surely this was an oversight rather than a choice?

Her writing is too self-consciously different, it lacks flow, and I lost patience with it before I’d even finished theh first page. Despite myself I pushed on but had only reached the third page before I found my allotted number of problems. Had I found this while browsing I wouldn’t have got past the back cover copy, which tells me nothing about the book but quite a lot about the author’s peculiar relationship with rivers. This is a valiant effort but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work for me.

Dark Muse: Broken Sword

June 16, 2011 7 comments

He chose love, finding passion in verse…

She chose him, and bent his passion…

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the  Dark Muse will come to find there’s more to mortal love than words…

Within a quill’s ink, the story of Jason will bleed muses and myths, romance, seduction, and betrayal.

*

Jason, a miller from 18th Century Carolina, seeks to escape a loveless marriage while on an Atlantic voyage to Italy, aboard a ship whose captain hides a pirate past. As he watches his wedding ring disappear beneath the waves, he’s chosen to alter his path. Within his yearning to find true love, is a hidden passion for rhyme and verse. Taking strength from his words, he builds relationships with others onboard who share his passionate nature, including a supernatural muse who shapes and his words and ideas, and ultimately, the truths he finds within himself.

*

When his poetry becomes more than a connection between himself and his emotions, Jason finds the opportunity for love that he seeks. But another has already claimed him. Exotic and erotic, the Dark Muse clings to his senses, forming the kiss on his lips.

Immortal, Leanan Sidhe is a Queen of the Fae, and daughter of the Sea Gods. As Jason holds a hand out to the love he’s been seeking, at lust crashes like Atlantic waves on the rock of his soul, his experiences with both will be defined

In terms of betrayal…

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One of the reasons for publishing our work is that we want it to find readers; and we want those readers to enjoy our writing, and to get something back from it which adds value to their lives. Unfortunately there is little chance of that happening with Dark Muse.

The book contains the usual sprinkling of misplaced commas, and a good few problems with other punctuation marks too. Those problems could be fixed by a competent copy editor: but the biggest problem with this book would still remain.

The text is quite remarkably over-written. There’s far too much description; the language is so unnecessarily complex that I often found myself struggling to understand the writer’s intentions; and I found several sentences which made no sense at all due, I suspect, to the writer not quite understanding some of the words he chose to use, or perhaps using them because he liked their sound and rhythm and didn’t actually care what they meant.

Add to that a lot of typesetting problems, a tiny font, and that cover image and you can probably understand why I read so little of this book: just three out of six hundred and eighteen pages. I strongly urge this writer to consider paring back his writing, and to aim for a much sparser style, if he wants to build himself a readership.

The Devil Won’t Care, by John Streby

June 2, 2011 14 comments

GENERAL FICTION

The Devil Won’t Care

A novel of betrayal and retribution

The Devil Won’t Care delves into the career of Lanny Lessner, a journalist who rockets to fame and wealth with a hard-hitting documentary about the decline of his home town after a spate of factory closings. Revered by millions, Lessner seems poised to become the Ralph Nader of his generation.

But Lessner has a dark side, replete with shady dealings, antisocial behaviour, and mean-spirited hypocrisy. The filmmaker’s saga is retold by a friend and supporter, Warren Hill, whose narrative chronicles their relationship. As the story evolves, Hill confronts a growing body of evidence that Lessner, intoxicated by his celebrity status, is a crass, deceptive, manipulative phony, whose shortcomings mimic those of the targets of his pungent wit.

The Devil Won’t Care addresses some of the flaws of a dysfunctional society in which “What’s in it for me?” is the common denominator. Checkbook photojournalism, celebrity worship, reality TV and our sound-bite culture are all laid bare. On a broader level, the book is a morality tale in which the narrator is forced to confront his deepest fears and emotions, set against a backdrop of deception, atonement and redemption.

About the Author

John Streby is a connoisseur of Broadway musicals, pre-1930 phonographs and records, and films noir. His first novel, Rabbit Stew, dealt with the incestuous mix of law and politics, and featured several characters who appear in this book. Mr. Streby is currently writing a third novel, Follow the Money.

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There might well be an excellent story lurking in The Devil Won’t Care but much was obscured by the author’s bad writing habits, which really got in my way as I read. It was frustrating: I could hear echoes of John Grisham in this book, and once or twice even caught a whiff of Donna Tartt’s Secret History, which is one of my all-time favourite books: but those moments were rare, and they were swiftly buried beneath the author’s frequent lapses into verbosity and exposition.

There were several places where the author threw away what could have been scenes of great tension; and I found much of his description overwritten and far too lengthy. The author’s habit of telling the reader what had happened instead of showing us those events stopped me caring much about any of his characters or what happened to them; he frequently repeats information; and at times I felt that he was too self-consciously Doing Writing rather than telling us his story.

All of these small problems add up to a text which is slow-paced and waffly. But the biggest problem was that it was confusing: there was little flow in the text; the narrative was jerky and inconsistent; it skipped from subject to subject and back again with little consistency; and this lack of focus, along with the over-wordy vocabulary, made what should have been a fast-paced courtroom drama into a slow dull read

I suspect Mr. Streby could do so much better if he worked with a strong editor or took part in some good writing workshops: there’s the hint of a good, commercial book buried beneath his mistakes. I read eleven of this book’s four hundred and thirty five pages; but had I not been reading this for review, I wouldn’t have got past the anti-trade publishing rant which makes up the bulk of the book’s second paragraph. It’s astonishingly ill-informed and the idea of anyone with an ounce of commercial experience investing money in the business proposed is ludicrous. I strongly advise this writer to research the realities of business better before he writes any more about it.

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.

Few Are Chosen: M T McGuire

April 21, 2011 5 comments

Few are Chosen

The Pan of Hamgee isn’t paranoid. There must be some people in K’Barth who aren’t out to get him; it’s just that, right now, he’s not sure where they are. His family are dead, his existence is treason and he does the only thing he can to survive — getaway driving.

As if being on the run isn’t bad enough, when he finds a magic thimble and decides to keep it, he unwittingly sets himself on a collision course with Lord Vernon, K’Barth’s despot ruler.

Unwillingly, The Pan is forced to make choices and stand up for his beliefs — beliefs he never knew he had until they were challenged. But, faced with a stark moral dilemma will his new found integrity stick? Can he stop running?

Reader comments

“Funny and completely original, I loved it.” Joe, aged 13

“I am your number one fan.” Emily, aged 30 something

Many of the books I’ve reviewed here could have done with a good hard edit, and Few are Chosen is no exception. Where it differs from most of those other books however is that (based on the pages I read) it is most in need of a copy edit rather than a full-blown structural one. I found numerous punctuation problems, a couple of tautologies, some odd sentence constructions and some pretty naff typesetting choices which made the text much harder to read than it should have been.

However, I also found an engaging main character (even though his humour was a little forced at times), a fast-paced opening and a better-than-usual setup. If the author were to improve on the few weaknesses I found, reduce his reliance on exposition, and cut back on his use of adjectives and dialogue tags his book would be significantly improved.

I read four pages out of this book’s two hundred and forty-five, but despite that low page-count I might well return to it again.

After September: Mark D Ransom

February 10, 2011 4 comments

Mark David Ransom—comes from a long line of craftsmen. His Italian immigrant great-grandfather worked on the world famous Brooklyn Bridge. His German/Irish father practiced his trade at the 1964 World’s Fair and on the State Capital in Albany, NY. He spent many years himself restoring masonry buildings in the five boroughs, including the Brooklyn Museum and the Empire State Building. The son of a slate roof and a bookkeeper, and educated by the public school system of New York City, Mark’s chosen crafts have been making song and theater. He has done poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe and readings at Reckless in Hell’s Kitchen. He is a member the White Horse Theatre Company where he played the title role of Half in a workshop production of the original play. A lifelong resident of New York City, he is a poet, an actor, and a singer/songwriter. As a building inspector and civil servant, living in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Mark witnessed the events of September 11, 2001, from a unique perspective, one that provided him with the inspiration for this, his first volume of published poetry. In his official capacity as an inspector, he documents the physical damage of city buildings. As a poet, he investigates the emotional and psychological topography of a new era in emerging from the old. His chronicle in verse, dedicated to the city of his birth, is written with words of healing, admiration, respect, and love.

First off, I applaud Mr. Ransom’s courage in publishing After September: it’s an intensely personal account of a very traumatic time and in exposing the emotion and horror of those days he has also exposed his own vulnerabilities. This is not to be done lightly: his courage is apparent, in his words and his decision to self publish them, and I admire him for it.

Sadly, I cannot admire this book. The poetry in it is confusing, clichéd and overwritten, and often contradicts itself within a line or two. As a result Mr. Ransom’s meaning is often obscured or completely misdirected. Which is a shame because lurking below these problems there is real potential.

Mr. Ransom has a good eye for poetic detail, and for those moments which represent our times. He has a natural inclination towards sparsity and has a lyrical tone which is lacking entirely from the work of most aspiring poets.

If I were Mr. Ransom, then, how would I proceed? I’d read the greats. I’d read anthologies of prize-winning poetry, I’d read books of poetry from the classics to the avant-garde and I’d read them all repeatedly until I breathed them. And then I’d look to my own work and make sure that not a single word was wasted, and that my meaning was always clear and strong.

So: a disappointing effort from a writer with potential, who is going to have to get really tough with himself in order to improve as a poet. I read nineteen pages out of seventy-five, and really hope that he improves.

Lost in Juarez: Douglas Lindsay

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

From the creator of the cult Barney Thomson crime series, comes a darker, more sinister novel.

The government is watching.

4 million names on the DNA database and counting; CCTV cameras on every street corner; telephone records available to any agency which requests them; restrictions on movements around Westminster; ID cards and the most all encompassing surveillance operations ever conducted. All in the name of freedom.

When his latest book is shelved due to government interference, Lake Weston—international bestselling, Bob Dylan-addicted children’s author—decides that it is time to stand up for personal rights. He writes and anonymously publishes a scathing polemic, the Animal Farm of its day, about a government which seeks to restrict civil liberties in the name of freedom. The book quickly achieves notoriety. The media is animatedly curious about the author; the government, however, already knows.

As the security services close in, Weston find his name dragged through the gutter press. Suddenly he must run for his life, not knowing who he can trust and with nothing in his pocket except a few pounds and an iPod loaded with 1256 Bob Dylan tracks.

About the books of Douglas Lindsay:

“Gleefully macabre… hugely enjoyable black burlesque.” The Scotsman

“Pitch black comedy spun from the finest writing. Fantastic plot, unforgettable scenes and plenty of twisted belly laughs.” New Woman

“Lindsay’s burlesque thrills offer no sex, no drugs, no desperation to be cool. Just straightforward adult story: fantastic plot, classic timing and gleeful delight in the grotesque.” What’s On

“Extremely well-written, highly amusing and completely unpredictable in its outrageous plot twists and turns.” The List

I really wanted to enjoy Lost in Juarez: it has a good jacket design, and the book feels balanced in my hands thanks to its professional production values (although I would have preferred a matt laminate on the cover—those glossy finishes always feel a bit too low-end to me). Despite the rather clumsy back cover copy the quotes which accompanied it really got my hopes up, and its premise appealed to me: so I started work on this book with some enthusiasm.

I was very disappointed.

The first hurdle I had to overcome was the book’s poor internal layout. The paragraphs are indented by only a single space, making reading difficult and tiring; and the font used throughout the book is just a trifle small. The problem with the font size is just a personal preference (amazingly, I seem to be getting older and find such close type wearing to read for long), so I didn’t include it in my tally of problems, but such typesetting issues have to be considered by self-publishers: they directly affect the readability of the book, and are likely to make potential readers turn away from this book without really knowing why they’re doing so. If you want to sell as many copies as you can it’s important to put as few barriers between the reader and the text as possible, and by making it even a tiny bit difficult to read the text, you’re shooting your book in its metaphorical foot.

Sadly, though, I felt that this book had more troubling issues than the size of its typeface. The author’s style is staccato and repetitious: he frequently uses sentence fragments and seems to be aiming for a hard-edged tone which at times morphs into pastiche. There were several confusing passages; a few lines which made no sense at all; a scattering of odd punctuation choices including an ellipsis of magnificent proportions; and a post-coital scene which was so full of adolescent self-importance that I found myself cringing as I read it.

I stopped reading after that sex scene, so read just sixteen pages out of two hundred and twelve. It’s a shame, as further on in the book the writer gets into his stride more, and the text does improve: but that’s too late if he wants to grab browsing readers who will usually begin at the book’s first page.

I’ve skim-read this book to the end and am convinced that with a better editor this book could have been significantly improved, and would probably have earned a recommendation from me. In its current state, however, I found it a clumsy and uncomfortable read on several levels. Nevertheless, there is something about it that I liked and I hope to see more from Mr Lindsay in the future.

Where Spirits Live: Omri Navot

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

When a new boy moves into the neighbourhood, everyone thinks he’s as strange as can be. But not Angela. She finds herself drawn to this mysterious boy, and with his help discovers that there’s more to her world than she ever imagined. Together, they journey to mystical realms where they learn secrets about themselves and each other. A touching book about youth, spirit, and friendship, Where Spirits Live is bound to enchant you with its mystery and magic.

I did try to find a cover image to use here, but without any luck: perhaps the author could add one to his own blog. Just a thought.

The simplistic tone of this book and its young main character made me wonder at first if it was intended for a younger audience: but its focus on spirituality makes that unlikely and so I’m still not quite sure where this book would be shelved and what its target market is.

The writing is mostly competent although I noticed a couple of peculiar paragraphs which had little to do with the text which surrounded them, and which would have been much better cut; there were a few sentences which were so poorly constructed that although I could work out what I think the author intended to say, the actual meaning of his words was nonsensical; and a pivotal scene in which the main character’s parents have the first of many fights comes as a complete surprise as until that point they’ve been portrayed as happy and settled.

Despite these quibbles the pages turned at a decent pace and I suspect that a good editor could turn this text into something much cleaner and sharper and ultimately more rewarding. My main concern for this book, though, focuses on bigger things. Its plot feels far too familiar; I found nothing new or exciting here, and feel no compulsion to read on; I am not convinced by either of the two main characters (the boy seems more than a little creepy); and I’m particularly uncomfortable with the boy’s suggestion that if the girl ignores her parents fighting it will all just go away.

A valiant effort, then, and a book not entirely without merit: but it is too deeply flawed for me to recommend it, I’m afraid, even though I read forty-one pages out of one hundred and fifty-one.

Nymphas’ World: Rachael Haldane

July 29, 2010 3 comments

Nymphas’ World

Although Kay is only ten years old, she always knew that she broke away from the ordinary. However, she did not anticipate ever acquainting herself with a fairy. Kay discovers a new world of old that no other human has ever trespassed before, meeting mythical creatures, strange beings and experiencing magic!

Kay and her brother Rob explore the land of Nymphas and learn much about fairy origin. There are, however, evil Nymphas as well as virtuous. Rob is snatched by the Onyx Nymphas and Kay has no choice but to go…

Beyond the Onyx Mountains.

Nymphas’ World has the most off-putting cover I’ve seen on a book for a long time. It’s an ugly image, badly executed, without any comedic value to lessen its impact.

The back cover copy is, as you can see, confused and confusing, and can’t even manage to remain in one tense. And then we get to the text inside.

It takes a lot of effort to write a novel and this one is relatively substantial, at nearly four hundred pages long: I applaud Ms Haldane’s efforts for getting so far. But I’m afraid that her writing is nowhere near good enough to be published.

She makes so many of the basic errors that I wondered at times if it was intentional: she writes in a very passive voice; she lists almost every action her characters perform, so reducing her pacing to a plodding, pedantic crawl; her sentences are so poorly constructed that it is often difficult to extract any meaning from them; and she has a tendency to sacrifice clarity in favour of big, impressive-sounding words.

These are issues that even the most skilled editor could not fix: with all due respect to Ms Haldane her writing just isn’t up to a good enough standard, I’m afraid. I went out of my way to be lenient here, but even so I read just four pages out of three hundred and eighty-four. I strongly advise this writer to read more, and to learn more about the craft of writing, before she considers publishing anything else.

The Darkness: Bill Kirton

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

When Tommy Davidson is found with his throat cut, his brother Andrew’s shock turns to thoughts of vigilante retribution. Known villains, including the person indirectly responsible for the death, begin to disappear. Thanks to the efforts of one of Cairnburgh’s cleverest lawyers, each has managed to evade justice. But not any more. Meantime, rape victim Rhona Kirk starts a new life in Dundee but finds it difficult to shake off her past. As DCI Jack Carston tries to find what links the various missing persons, he’s aware of his own darker impulses and of an empathy between himself and the vigilantes. His investigation becomes a race against time and against the pressure of darkness.

The jumbled and dull back cover copy for The Darkness is no indication of the quality of the text of the book itself: I found a lot here to keep me interested, and would like to see what happens to Bill Kirton’s work when it is passed through the hands of a competent and demanding editor.

The problems I found—a tendency to exposition, a lack of clear characterisation, a couple of clichés and a few punctuation problems—are all fixable because the underlying writing is strong, clear and fast-moving. Kirton has a raw talent which gives an edge to this book that most writers will never achieve: if he focuses on revising his next text to a higher standard I can see him doing very well indeed.

I was particularly harsh with Mr. Kirton in my judgement of his book but despite that, I read twenty-four of his three hundred and thirteen pages. If I had found this on the slush pile, I would almost certainly have asked to see more: as it is, I am going to cautiously recommend this book despite its flaws.

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