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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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 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.

###

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.

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…

***

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.