Archive

Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

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

March 29, 2012 8 comments

[This book has no back cover copy]

 

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

In Search of the Menopause Ranch, by Deborah Vaughn

March 22, 2012 Comments off

FICTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pisquale Productions

www.menopauseranch.com

###

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

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

The Tourist Trail, by John Yunker

March 15, 2012 1 comment

Some people stop at the water’s edge.

Some keep going…

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

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

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

www.TheTouristTrail.com

###

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

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

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

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

Remix, by Lexi Revellian

March 1, 2012 2 comments

Fun, grit and coiled menace…

Andrew Wrigley

REMIX

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

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

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

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

Elspeth Cooper, author of The Wild Hunt

Great characters, great story, pacy lucid style.

Ali McKay

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Discovery of Socket Greeny: Tony Bertauski

October 5, 2011 3 comments

SOCKET ALWAYS FELT LIKE THE PEOPLE AROUND HIM WERE A BUNCH OF FAKES.

HE WAS RIGHT.

###

The Discovery of Socket Greeny proved rather tricky for me to review. It’s confusing, inconsistent, the characters behave bizarrely for little apparent reason, and there are many instances of heavily overwritten text: but the writer’s voice is strong and compelling, and despite the book’s flaws I enjoyed this quirky read.

It does need work. While the text is clean enough some editing is still required: there are several places where the text could be significantly tightened, particularly in the many dream-like sequences (there’s a distinction between “atmospheric” and “poncey” which I suspect this writer is not yet fully aware of); the word “essence” is horribly overused; and the writer really needs to learn how to avoid constructions which make his sentences laugh-out-loud wrong. For example, on page twenty-eight we find this:

Mom waited at the office door. She pushed her hair behind her ear, it fell back, and took a deeper breath than usual.

I can tell what the author meant; but he’s written that Mom’s hair was breathing, which doesn’t work at all. If that were the only example of this particular grammatical stumble that I found in the book I would be more forgiving: but there were several, and each one made me wince. Mistakes like these add up quickly and have a very detrimental effect on the reader’s enjoyment of the book. It’s the sort of thing that a good editor would spot: and I can’t help thinking that if Mr. Bertauski had worked with a good editor, I would be recommending this book to you now. I read thirty-seven of two hundred and sixty-eight pages and am rather disappointed that this particular book couldn’t show itself off a little better.

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

###

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.

###

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.