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.

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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

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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.

I Serve: Roseanne E Lortz

September 14, 2011 7 comments

A tale of ARMS, of DEATH, of LOVE, and of HONOR

Set against the turbulent backdrop of the Hundred Years’ War, I SERVE chronicles the story of Sir John Potenhale. A young Englishman of lowly birth, Potenhale wins his way to knighthood on the fields of France. He enters the service of Edward, the Black Prince of Wales, and immerses himself in a stormy world of war, politics, and romantic intrigue.

While campaigning in France, Potenhale developed an interest in Margery, a spirited lady-in-waiting with a close-kept secret. He soon learns that Sir Thomas Holland, a crass and calculating baron, holds the key to unlock Margery’s mystery and possesses the power to overturn all of his hopes.

When the Black Death strikes Europe, however, Potenhale realizes that the fiercest enemy does not always appear in human form. Seeing the pestilence as a punishment for the sins of his generation, he questions his calling as a knight and considers entering the cloister. Margery or the monastery? Torn between losing his soul and losing the love of his life, he finds friendship with a French knight who might-just possibly-help him save both.

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I read very little historical fiction: it’s a genre I’ve never really developed a liking for, with the exception of the wonderful books by Elizabeth Chadwick, whose novels I adore. I’m always very aware of my lack of appreciation of this genre, and so when I review historical fiction I always try to overcome my personal feelings and judge the text on its merits, and not my own biases. I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince only reinforced my lack of interest in the genre, I’m afraid. It had the usual sprinkling of errors in punctuation; but my overwhelming feeling with this book is that it lacks authenticity.

There were several reasons for this. The author has included a handful of details which don’t ring true: for example, an out-of-breath horse is described as having “heaving withers”: as withers are a horse’s shoulders that seems very unlikely to me; and a character snaps “a single blossom” from a broom plant: brooms have lots of tiny pea-like flowers on each branch and a single one wouldn’t take much snapping nor would it be at all impressive.

Then comes the dialogue. It’s stilted, overly formal, owes more to the movies of Errol Flynn than to history, and it really interferes with the authenticity of this text. Add to this frequent bouts of exposition, a tendency to over-write, some repetition, and a pace that at times feels draggingly slow and at other times hurried, and I’m surprised that I read as far as I did. I reached page forty four of this three hundred and sixty one page book, and wasn’t sorry to put it aside.

Flight To Paradise: Mike Coe

September 7, 2011 129 comments

Eighteen year old Keri Hart’s life was turned upside down when her Southern high society mother insisted, “Now Sugah, I think it would be best if you ended it with Ryan Mitchell…” only days before his leaving Atlanta to attend the United States Naval Academy.

Fast-forward nine years, Keri is a Miami-based flight attendant; Ryan is a Navy fighter pilot based near San Diego and soon to be an airline pilot. In hopes of reviving a love once lost, Ryan writes to Keri. Before the letter is posted, Rex Dean, Ryan’s laid-back, self-absorbed roommate, intercepts and alters the letter—the beginning of a deviously concocted plan that blindsides the hometown hopefuls, thrusting them into rebound relationships.

With Ryan’s marriage a train wreck and Keri engaged—her wedding only weeks away—fate arranges a coincidental New York layover. A morning stroll through Central Park awakens their undeniable love for each other, forcing them to question everything they thought they knew.

Masterfully balanced with suspense, humour, and emotional intensity, Flight To Paradise takes readers on a journey that concludes with the unexpected. With a multitude of twists and turns, the tale unfolds a story of hope, forgiveness, and the enduring message that “love given” is the key to unlocking the desires of the heart.

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Mike Coe landed in Southern California after traveling the world as an Air Force pilot and twenty-one year veteran commercial airline pilot. He has two grown children and is married to his high school sweetheart, best friend, and soul mate of thirty-three years. To learn more about the story behind the stories, please visit coebooks.com.

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There is a somewhat-Stepford quality to the two female characters which appear in the first few pages of Flight to Paradise: mother and daughter Barbara Ann and Keri are both flat as pancakes as far as personality and characterisation goes, and are described in terms which are at times reminiscent of the softer end of porn. The book opens with young Keri in the shower; later she happens to drop the towel she’s wearing just as she happens to stand in front of the mirror (I was at this point expecting a description of her appearance and while her face wasn’t mentioned, I wasn’t disappointed). Then there are the usual issues with punctuation and exposition; and our author’s odd fondness slapping “pre-” onto words which simply don’t need it. I found two instances of “pre-selected” within a page of one another, and a “pre-screened” popped up between them: not one “pre-” was required and the overall effect was jerky and peculiarly distracting.

On the plus side, however, the author has a reasonable sense of pace and unlike many of the other books I’ve reviewed here there is a hint of natural storytelling ability present in the text.

On the whole then, a disappointment. The hints that I saw of the writer’s talents were outweighed by his clumsy mistakes and his apparent discomfort within this genre, and I read just four pages out of three hundred and thirty five.

Much of this writer’s depiction of women was stereotypical and often verged on voyeuristic, and I wonder if he might be better off writing a different genre: I don’t think he has an aptitude for writing romance and it could be his lack of empathy with the driving force of this book which has deadened it. I wonder how he’d improve if he turned to genres which are more traditionally masculine, such as crime thriller; and I wish him luck in finding his niche.

The DeerHunter: BrokenSword

August 31, 2011 4 comments

The hunter Liam Michaels lies wounded, bleeding in the forests of the Canaan mountains. For him, the world is a bloody sky of red beneath which he can’t move.

The shooter Ian Lambert stands above him, persecuted by his past. For him, there’s only thoughts of how long he must now track the crippled buck.

Sarah Michaels, disillusioned with her marriage, has decided to cross the line. For her, taking off the ring means giving up the fairy tale.

Watching over all, the Lord of the Forest and keeper of the paths is witness and protector.

With brutal force, the truth of Liam’s nature is thrust on him in the form of a buck’s head, bleeding, dripping, and hollow. What he does with a second chance will redefine love and life.

With the guile of wolves, the war has come to claim him but Lambert takes what he wants and he wants the girl. But wanting her will bring only death.

As the long winter bends and folds into the spring of day, Sarah makes a discovery that questions second chances. Fearing hope has fled through the gap in the fence and into the Forest beyond, she is unaware of what follows.

The Wild Hunt is coming, savage enough to sweep mortals into the Otherworld. Liam, Lambert, and Sarah are prey for the riders of the storm, and stand in their path. As whispers of Cernunnos gather in the name of Herne the hunter, The Cervine is speaking like the sound of roots breaking soil, bringing the message that it is faith to love.

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I found relatively few technical errors in The Deerhunter: the punctuation was reliably done, the spelling was fine and the grammar was mostly okay (although BrokenSword would be wise to check his sentence structure more carefully than he seems to at the moment, as I doubt that he intended the comedic effect that he sometimes achieves).

What really let this book down was the writing: it is so horribly overwritten that it’s often difficult to know what on earth the author intended to communicate. There is a certain lyrical flow to the writing: BrokenSword uses alliteration to good effect and the rhythm and texture of his work is often pleasing: but he achieves this transitory pleasure at the expense of meaning, which is going to cost him readers.

When readers are forced to re-read every sentence in order to understand the text before them, they cannot become absorbed by the story they’re trying to read. They are simply not given a chance to enjoy the book. And that is, I’m afraid, exactly what happened here. The overwriting, the misused words, and the unnecessary complexity of this text creates a barrier between it and its reader.

I’ve often seen this dense and meaningless style referred to as literary fiction: it isn’t. It’s overwritten, self-indulgent, and boring. I read just two pages of this three hundred and eighty-six page book and cannot recommend it on any level. I suspect that it could not be sufficiently improved editing and suggest that the author read Carol Shields and Alice Munro to see how beautiful a sparser style can be.

Randolph’s One Bedroom: Andrew Oberg

August 24, 2011 5 comments

When winter stretches on for half the year and people are forced to spend entirely too much time indoors, strange things are bound to happen. Randolph’s city of Sornsville, and the local coffee shop he works at, are no exceptions. But through all the irate customers and cryogenically preserved mammals, the drinks that magically disappear just when their order has come up, and the simian clerks that know far too much for their own good, Randolph somehow manages to keep an even keel. Here are twenty linked stories, or twenty episodes if you will, about Randolph and the small, frozen, and thoroughly odd part of the world he inhabits.

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A good short story is more than a vignette: something or someone has to change in the course of it; its characters need to learn things, or change their minds, and move on in some way, otherwise the piece of writing—no matter how beautifully phrased it is—will be little more than a series of disjointed actions, observed by a disinterested reader.

Randolph’s One Bedroom is that disjointed thing. Each episode that I read was a reasonable account of a string of events, but that doesn’t make a story: there was no character development, and no sense of growth and no conclusions: just accounts of small snippets of time, with some slightly odd behaviour included for no real reason that I could see.

There was also too much exposition; far too much detail, much of which I found dull; and quite a few points where the writer contradicted himself, made illogical statements, or used a word which jarred and so stopped the flow of the text.

I like short story collections and I like writing which is quirky and slightly off-kilter: I’d hoped that this collection would deliver me some of that quirk. Instead, this is a lacklustre collection of pieces which are, I suspect, intended to intrigue and delight but which only served to bore me by the time I’d finished reading.

I hope the writer considers plot and pacing more carefully in his future work; and that he learns to edit his work far more stringently than he has edited this collection.

I read twenty-two out of its one hundred and forty-three pages and those twenty-two pages were heavy going. I hope that this author will do better as he becomes a more experienced writer.