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Mousetrapped, by Catherine Ryan Howard

February 16, 2012 13 comments

Three big dreams, two mouse ears and one J-1 visa. What could possibly go wrong in the happiest place on earth?

When Catherine Ryan Howard decides to swap the grey cloud of Ireland for the clear skies of the Sunshine State, she thinks all of her dreams – working in Walt Disney World, living in the United States, seeing a Space Shuttle launch – are about to come true…

Ahead of her she sees weekends at the beach, mornings by the pool and an inexplicably skinnier version of herself skipping around the Magic Kingdom. But not long into her first day on Disney soil – and not long after a breakfast of Mickey-shaped pancakes – Catherine’s Disney bubble bursts and soon it seems that among Orlando’s baked highways, monotonous mall clusters and world famous theme parks, pixie dust is hard to find and hair is downright impossible to straighten.

The only memoir about working in Walt Disney World, Space Shuttle launches, the town that Disney built, religious theme parks, Bruce Willis, humidity-challenged hair and the Ebola virus, MOUSETRAPPED: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida is the hilarious story of what happened when one Irish girl went searching for happiness in the happiest place on Earth.

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This is one of those reviews which is very difficult for me to write. There’s a lot to praise in Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida; but there’s also a lot to criticise and knowing Catherine Ryan Howard as I do, I am as certain as I can be that she’d rather hear all of my reservations than be fobbed off with a few kind words. So brace yourself, Catherine: this is going to be tough.

Catherine Ryan Howard has an engaging, friendly tone and the story trips along at a reasonable pace. Everything she writes is infused with a lively humour and she has a natural storytelling ability which I’m sure many writers would envy. This already earned her a recommendation for me (so you can stop worrying now, Catherine). She has the basics right: her spelling and grammar are fine, although the punctuation is flawed and inconsistent. But these problems are few, and are nowhere near bad enough to interrupt the flow of her narrative, or to put off a determined agent.

However, there is an indication of problems to come in the back cover copy, which feels a little repetitive and over-long; to then come across phrases from the back cover copy repeated in the first few pages of the book feels a little wrong: I would expect the back cover copy to be its own entity and not a close copy of some of the passages from the book. The opening of this book is not up to scratch: the pages before she reaches Disneyland are too long, too rambling and once more repetitive.

This doesn’t mean that I disliked the book: but I can see how easily (!) the opening could be tightened up and made significantly more absorbing, and how its lack of focus and clarity might well put browsing readers off.

To continue with my criticisms, the humour is at times rather forced; Catherine Ryan Howard’s bleak first few weeks in Orlando made me feel very uncomfortable and unhappy for her despite the jokes she kept right on cracking; and I found her stories rather episodic, as if this were a collection of short stories or articles rather than a continuing memoir. I would have preferred more variation in tone, and more integration of the book’s various strands: I don’t think either is beyond Ms Ryan Howard as she is clearly a confident, intelligent writer. If these points were addressed (a more concise opening, more variation in tone and a better narrative flow) then this book would be very much improved

Where I struggled was with Ms Ryan Howard’s actions. She seemed to crash off on each new venture with little thought or preparation, which at times made me wonder if she was purposely sabotaging herself. It could just be the natural foolhardiness of the young which caused her to believe behave in this way; but I found it infuriating and anxiety-provoking, and that directly affected my enjoyment of this book. I’ll admit that I am an obsessive researcher, and make thorough preparations before I even brush my teeth: so this could be my natural caution showing through.

On the whole, then, an enjoyable read from a humorous and talented writer, which could be much improved with a more stringent edit to improve the pace, tone and flow, but which nevertheless earns a recommendation from me. Well done, Catherine!

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Note: I received this book aeons ago and its review should have appeared much sooner than this. My apologies to Ms Ryan Howard for the delay.

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.

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 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 Ark Of Adams: Jack Kane

July 21, 2011 6 comments

Dr. Timothy Adams’ invention was supposed to save mankind. Indeed, Arcadia, was to be his crowning achievement.

Through life extension technologies and Virtual Reality fueled immersion, a land of plenty has been given birth to; a shelter from the dawning New Ice Age and collapsing globally economic markets. But, the shadowy government agency from which his funding was so generously provided has other plans.

Meet Nikki Allen, Arcadia Citizen 472. When a stranger claims knowledge of the believed mythical Genesis Code Exploit, she is drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse, her identity stolen, a fugitive amidst the hacker underground.

But, when tragedy comes to strike the area of Limmerick, an uneasy peace will threaten to boil over and a fight will be waged for the ultimate control of an imperfect world that will never be the same.

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Oh dear.

I always do my best to try to find something positive to say about the books I review here but in this case it is just not possible for me to do so. The Ark Of Adams contains punctuation errors, problems with grammar, overwriting, contradictions, exposition and some unfortunate juxtapositions that would have been funny if they had been intentional.

This book needs more than editing and copyediting; it needs rewriting from beginning to end; but until its author develops a much better understanding of language, grammar and pace he is unlikely to be able to improve this book sufficiently to make that task a worthwhile endeavour.

I don’t like to be so negative about anyone’s work; I appreciate the effort and commitment that goes into writing a book; but this book is so deeply and variously flawed that in this case I have no option. I offer my apologies to Mr. Kane and hope that his work improves significantly over the coming years. I  read just two pages of this book’s three hundred and fifty nine, despite overlooking several errors.

The Talisman Of Elam: Jim Mastro

July 7, 2011 1 comment

A boy and his two friends…
a spaceship buried in the woods…
an ancient talisman hidden halfway across the galaxy…
and the fate of all mankind hanging in the balance.

The Talisman of Elam (The Children of Hathor) gets off to a very slow start. The text is weighed down by exposition and mundane detail, and although it’s an easy enough read its first thirty pages or so failed to engage me. If I’d seen this in a bookshop its lacklustre back cover copy and opening would not have tempted me to buy it.

The writing improves significantly once it’s past that slow opening but by then, of course, it’s too late. There are other problems with it too: I found a number of contradictions, a few minor plot-points which were much too obvious and were made far too much of; several out-of-character reactions; and far too many incongruencies which pulled me right out of the plot.

It’s a shame, as this book is better than most of the ones I review here; but being almost good enough isn’t enough.

If I were editing this book I’d suggest that the writer dropped most of those slow pages which begin the book, and then that he should rewrite it all paying particular attention to pace and authenticity. This would involve paring the text down by a significant amount and working out how to advance the plot without reliance on coincidence; but a good writer could do that without too much trouble and this book would be much better for it. I read eighty-seven out of this book’s three hundred and thirteen pages, but don’t feel inclined to read any further.