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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Kai Zu And The Orphan’s Pyramid: Kamenn Lechiffe

August 3, 2011 9 comments

Kai’s a foster child and he’s turning eleven.
FOSTER CARE ENDS AT ELEVEN.
Now, he must compete for a spot in an exclusive orphan boarding school. Hundreds enter the Orphan’s Pyramid. Few reach the top.
It’s not so bad at first. He’s given what every eleven-year-old boy wants: an endless supply of television, video games, and junk food.
But the moment he finds a hidden message from the mysterious Barbeque Captain, he realizes there’s more at stake than just school admission.
As he moves up the Pyramid, the danger increases. A mutant squirrel, a chainsaw-wielding puppet, deadly chalupas, cyborg cockatoos, two man-size rabbits, one plus-size Queen, and several kabuki-masked middle managers are nothing compared to the shocking truth Kai learns in the end…

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Kai Zu and the Orphan’s Pyramid is an easy enough read and the story trips along quite nicely; the text is reasonably clean of typos and punctuation problems: but it’s not quite believable (and yes, I realise that this is a fantasy, but all books have to make their readers believe in the worlds that they reveal, no matter what their genres).

The various tasks that the children have to complete are all relatively easy; there is little tension or fluctuation of pace; and many of the episodes recounted have little or no logic behind them and seemed to happen at random, with no real consequences. There’s far too much exposition, and the writer dedicates a lot of page-space to explanations which are simply not necessary; and I am also concerned that this book is far too long and textually dense to sustain the interest of a child in its target age group.

These problems could all be corrected by a strong rewrite and are not serious enough to kill the book: but there is a central problem which I don’t think will be as easy to solve.

Many of the children depicted in this book simply don’t behave in the way that children do. They’re too civilised, too mature, and all too willing to remember and follow the rules. For example, I do not believe that opposing gangs of eleven and twelve-year-olds would resolve their problems without bickering simply by playing a game of dice; nor do I believe that such young children would follow the regimented routines discussed in this book.

The only way I can see that this book to be believable is for its author to rewrite it for a slightly older age group. That way the main characters could also be a few years older, which would answer some of my concerns about the book’s authenticity; and it would allow the author to introduce a more edgy tone and some more believable obstacles, threats, and consequences into the storyline.

Despite having read eighty-seven out of this book’s three hundred and fifty-two pages I cannot recommend it: it’s a slow read with little texture or emotional depth, and with plot holes even I could park a double decker bus in. I wish its writer the best of luck with his publishing career.

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.