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Posts Tagged ‘poor flow’

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.

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.

Ordeal: T K Varenko

November 11, 2010 2 comments

It is a verse-ornated story
About love, betrayal, wrath
Royal vampires’ bliss and glory
Bringing them straight to their death.

Luella, fierce, strong vampire,
Falls for a pretty human catch
Sent on her fiancé’s desire
To celebrate they are engaged.

This unexpected turnabout
Is doomed to come to a dead end:
Her human sweetheart’s dead to shroud:
Her fiancé’s avenged for that.

And she is punished for blood treason,
Banished into a mortal child,
Whose human body is a prison
For all her powers to bind.

Her memories obliterated,
She is to find her love at last
Who proves to be too much related
To the misfortunes from her past.

Ordeal is a vampire story written completely in verse, which follows a simple A – B – A – B four line form. It’s a relatively easy form to write if you have a good awareness of rhythm and rhyme; sadly the author of this book appears to have neither.

His lines don’t scan, his rhymes often don’t actually rhyme; he uses words which almost sound good but don’t mean what he seems to think they mean; and several of his verses make no sense at all.

He has forgotten to put his own name on the front cover of his own book; the cover image he has chosen is extremely unappealing, and brings to mind the inside of a mouldy eyeball, complete with blood vessels; the back cover copy is almost illegible as the font used is over-fancy and out of focus; and the book has no copyright page.

The writing is quite astonishingly bad: this verse reads as though it has been dragged backwards and forwards through Babel Fish a few times. I read five and a half pages out of two hundred and twelve despite ignoring several of the author’s less significant lapses, and I strongly urge this writer to put in a lot more work on his craft before he even considers publishing anything else.

Lost in Juarez: Douglas Lindsay

October 28, 2010 Comments off

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.

First Wolf: Carol Anne Carr

April 29, 2010 1 comment

It was Toland’s twelfth year of life when his father hurled the wolf’s head at the mighty Eorl Uhtred, bringing his childhood to a violent end. These were dangerous times, with people driven from their settlements, tribal wars, and bands of robbers on the roads, but Toland must keep his solemn promise to save the Lindisfarne Gospels from the Vikings, protect his family, and find his father. With his faithful hound Bodo, he sets off on his quest through Anglo-Saxon Northumbria and his many adventures lead him to the mysterious hermit on Inner Farne, the mystery of the stolen jewels, a blood debt, and a terrible discovery at the White Church…

I had high hopes for First Wolf: it has an above-average front cover (although the author’s name is in the wrong font, the wrong colour, and wrong position); and although the back cover copy is flawed (it contains a tense-change, is a little confusing, and at times reads a bit like a shopping list) it could be brought up to standard without too much trouble. The book’s premise appealed to me too, with its echoes of Alan Garner and its roots in a particularly spectacular part of our landscape and history. But, as is often the case with self-published books, the text is in need of a strong edit, and that’s what lets this book down in the end.

In my view, it suffers from a surplus of commas. I realise that not everyone will agree with me on this point: but I prefer text to be as clear and clean as possible and including commas when they’re not strictly needed makes this impossible. Before you all shout me down here, bear in mind that my preference for clarity-without-commas hasn’t developed simply because I dislike the look of them on the page: it’s because their overuse often hides a fundamental problem with the text which they adorn.

Too often, commas are used to prop up an inadequate sentence structure, or to try to improve a syntax which is forced and lacking in fluency: and that’s what has happened here. A good editor would have helped the writer correct all those errors and let the fast-paced story shine: as it is, the story’s excitement is dulled by the writer’s slightly confusing writing, her oddly over-formal tone, and her frequently illogical statements. Which is a shame, as with a proper edit this book could have been much improved. I read seven pages out of one hundred and fifty-five, and despite their flaws rather enjoyed them.

Einstein And Human Consciousness (Eternity Is An Instant): Brad Buettner

April 22, 2010 6 comments

HEALTH/INSPIRATION

Which is more important: the practical or the sublime? Are you a Doer or a Dreamer? Brad Buettner has over twenty-four years of experience utilizing his physics degree in a wide array of engineering and management assignments. With this background he examines early twentieth-century physics and human relationships observed during his professional tenure to illustrate how Einstein’s theory of relativity pertains to our perception of time and how it explains divisions in our outlook. By applying the theory of relativity to human consciousness, Buettner discovers the motivation for personal inclination toward either the practical or the abstract.

Buettner defines total reality as containing more than the reality our senses perceive. When discussing alternate forms of reality, however, he insists on measurable and observable conclusions, eliminating references to mysticism, magic, or mystery. He outlines an engaging search for the unlikely possibility of interaction with the reality that existed before the Big Bang.

Einstein in Human Consciousness: Eternity is an Instant provides stunning revelations concerning human reality. Does your world extend beyond that perceived by the physical senses? If so, why? Buettner offers the answers to these questions by explaining an aspect of reality that was previously elusive.

Brad Buettner received physics and metallurgical degrees from Benedictine and Lehigh Universities, which he applied to a varied career in engineering and management. He’s lived or worked in New York City, Baltimore, Princeton, and the Chicago area. He has a wife and two sons and currently resides in the Chicago suburbs.

Brad Buettner might have written his book Einstein and Human Consciousness: Eternity is an Instant around an interesting theory, and he certainly has an easy, fluent writing style. But both were spoiled for me by his repeated reassurances that I would be able to understand his reasoning if I only tried, even if I wasn’t very highly educated. I found some of his comments about this patronising, and at times almost insulting.

When Buettner commented, “Dreamers have a different view of reality than Doers, and the reason is that Dreamers concentrate on a different reality altogether. Dreamers have found a peculiar aspect of human consciousness that has different properties than the physical reality that our senses detect” I wonder if he realised that he was casting Dreamers as “other”?

Buettner is at his best when he explains proven, accepted concepts: his account of relative time is clear, elegant and interesting. His writing is good; his text is beautifully error-free. But in trying to reach a wider audience he’s only succeeded in patronising us all; and he’s perhaps revealed more about himself than he had planned to in places. I stopped reading on page nine, when I came across this:

Imagine the ridicule simpler minds must have given Einstein when they first heard his proposal.

I don’t like the implication that anyone less clever than Einstein (which, let’s face it, includes pretty much most of us) would have automatically ridiculed him for proposing his theory: most, I suspect, would have asked him questions and tried to understand it for themselves. The human race is usually more curious than it is judgemental: if we weren’t, we would never have escaped our more superstitious beliefs and reached the moon. Because of that I’m not going to judge Mr. Buettner for apparently thinking so little of his readers: instead I’m going to wonder how much better his book would have been if he’d worked with someone who challenged his ideas and edited out all of his more patronising bits. How good could it have been then?

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