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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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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 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.

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.

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.

Green Skies: Eric Uhlich and Andrew Oberg

May 12, 2011 4 comments

Rampant climate change. Unchecked and self-serving authorities. Clinging to imported traditions. Thriving but hostile indigenous tribes. Racism. Starvation. Murder. It is Western Settlement, Greenland, late fifteenth century, and the Norse colony there is plagued by all these problems and many more. Green Skies tell their tale through the eyes of a young farmer named Bjorn Thorsson, a man whose efforts to eke out a living are mirrored countless times across his community. Season after season, from midnight sun to polar night, their hardships mount until the settlement’s very survival is in question. Will the Norse be able to limp their way through another harsh winter? Or will the Inuit finally push them over the brink? Will Bjorn be able to find peace in his eerily modern medieval world? Or will he succumb to the despair that haunts his neighbours and afflicts his nation? Green Skies is the story of the struggle we all face to survive in a changing world — physically, certainly, but much more so psychologically.

The back cover copy of Green Skies changes subject at random, and is thick with clichés. It tells me very little about the book and its claims to greater things ring hollow when considered alongside the lacklustre text inside.

I tried my hardest with this book but found it terribly slow reading. The pace drags; the illustrations (which are really rather important for a graphic novel) are competent at best and never veer towards excitement. The story lacks tension and rhythm; the characters merge into an homogenous, bearded whole; and my only concern as I read on was how the polar bear they captured could survive for so long in a cage little bigger than itself, with no food or water to sustain it.

I read fifty-seven out of two hundred and ten printed pages and, had I found this book in the slush pile, I’d have stopped reading much sooner. I’m afraid it’s a dreary read with little to recommend it.

True Confessions Of Nude Photography: A K Nicholas

January 27, 2011 7 comments

This review also appears on my bigger blog, How Publishing Really Works. Comments there are closed so if you’d like to discuss this book or my review, you have to do it here. Please do!


Learn and Master the Techniques of Nude Photography

Spark Your Creativity with 100 Inspiring Poses

Composition and Visual Pathway

Control Light to Scupt the Figure

Recruit and Interact with Models

Market Your Work

The human body has been an inspiration for artists since before the invention of photography. Naturally, nudes were one of the first subjects of photography as well.

This illustrated how-to guide can be enjoyed by anyone, but is written for two main audiences: the accomplished photographer who wants insight from a peer into the genre of nude photography, and the serious amateur who wants a guided introduction to the field.

The processes are arranged step-by-step. You’ll find more than just a selection of photos and a dissection of each; you’ll see full lighting diagrams as well as a frank discussion of the techniques and pitfalls in the days and weeks leading up to making a nude image. From finding your first nude model to selling your first nude photo, the guide will take you through lighting, posing, and-post processing with Photoshop.

You’ll learn from the author’s twenty years of experience photographing hundreds of nude models.

True Confessions of Nude Photography has fallen foul of the usual problems which trouble most self published books I’ve seen: slapdash punctuation, run-on sentences, jumbled sentences, missing or extra words, and claims which are not be supported by logic. I read just seven of its one hundred and twenty-two pages despite doing my best to be generous: it’s a jerky read made all the more irritating by its frequent repetitions.

I found both its title and the author’s references to “the beauty of the human body” misleading: these terms imply—to me at least—that the book discusses photographing the human body in all its forms; but the only pictures the book contains are of over-skinny, pouting young women. While I can understand that these women might well appeal to the book’s author/photographer, some of the pictures included are quite remarkably unappealing. Some of the poses he’s chosen look extremely uncomfortable; despite this, the two young women who appear together in some of his shots (both of them fit young women, of course) seem very enthusiastic about posing together. I also found some of the advice given on how to find models just a little disturbing: call me prudish, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for anyone to ask young women to pose for them without explaining right from the start that they’ll be expected to strip off their scanties. It reeks of predatory, manipulative behaviour to me, and although that might not be the author’s intention it is a tactic that I find abusive.

If you want to know how to photograph naked people, there have to be better books than this for you to learn from; but if all you want is a poorly-written, poorly-edited book featuring a few competent photos of naked young women, then this is the book for you.