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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 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.

Solomonovsky: Michael J Landy

February 25, 2010 Comments off

16-year-old Ruth Levinson is snooty, pampered, and in cold control of her destiny. Until Solomonovsky steps into her life and sends it hurtling off into the darkest corners of hell. Can she escape unharmed?

‘I enjoyed it, admired it, and found myself gripped by it. I put my work down to read 30 pages or so, and read the whole book at a sitting.’

DAVID NOBBS
(Creator of Reginald Perrin)

Solomonovsky has been languishing in my reviewing-bag for far too long. I’ve made several attempts to read the book so that I could write a decent review: but despite Michael J Landy’s fluent writing and mostly-clean editing I’ve made very poor headway with this book.

Solomonovsky is a painter, and Landy frequently lapses into floweriness when showing him at work. Although I suspect this was done in order to convince the reader of Solomonovsky’s genius, it had quite the opposite effect on me: I found Solomonovsky a tiresome, boorish character. I didn’t like him at all: he’s arrogant, manipulative and sexually predatory, without a shred of kindness to redeem himself with and no, I don’t for a moment buy into the stereotype that creative people are allowed to be so very oafish: arsey behaviour is unacceptable no matter how you earn your living. And because of that, I simply do not believe that the women who encounter him would behave the way that they do: they all adore him no matter how rudely and disreputably he behaves, and no reason is given for his behaviour. At least, no plausible one.

At one point a prim and respectable married woman, who is so emotionally buttoned up that even her husband has never seen her naked, is asked by Solomonovsky to pose naked for him.
She finds the idea, and Solomonovsky, appealing (god knows why: he is unrelentingly self-centred and rude) and although she hesitates, when he shows her his painting of one of her friends, who is equally repressed and absolutely starkers, she is persuaded:

“Lilian Bookbinder. When I look at her, displaying her nakedness, I know what she is thinking. I have been allowed to see deep into the soul of another human being. He has done that. He has made me read the expression on her face and now I know her better than anyone does, I understand her the way Solomonovsky understands her.”

I would have thought a more reasonable reaction for her would be to be horrified at the idea of him showing a painting of her own naked self to all and sundry: but no, not only does she find the whole thing somehow enlightening, she agrees to allow her sixteen-year-old daughter, who she chaperones everywhere, to also pose for Solomonovsky alone despite it being obvious that the bloke is going to come on to the daughter too.

This could have made for a powerful story if it had been made more believable: I’m sure that could have been done if the writer had given his characters a little more depth, provided them with some plausible motivation, and explored their internal conflict with more thought and care. As it is, I just didn’t buy it and my reading ground to a halt as a result.

I read to page forty-five and despite Landy’s unusually fluent and articulate prose, find myself relieved to be done with this one.

As They Grow Older: S M Cashmore

November 19, 2009 7 comments

Witch Street is paved with stories for children. Strange stories. Spooky stories. Halloween stories.

This collection, AS THEY GROW OLDER, has a life of its own. Starting with The Toyman and The Grumpy Browns to fascinate the very young, the stories themselves grow older, stranger and spookier, until the almost adult Last and Longest Story at the very end.

AS THEY GROW OLDER should be read with the lights dimmed, read aloud at Halloween. It doesn’t matter how old your children are, there is a spooky story in this collection written especially for them to listen to…..

If they dare.

This collection of short, spooky stories is cleaner than most, with a mercifully-low error-count. The writer has a fluent, if rather naive style; and he has a good grasp of grammar, too. These things count strongly in his favour and were I reading this as a slush-pile submission rather than a published book, those good points would mean that he was automatically in the top ten per cent of the work before me.

He would still receive a rejection, though. His tone is at times a little patronising and while that might have worked a few decades ago it’s no longer acceptable in children’s fiction; and his stories, while perfectly pleasant, are neither convincing nor compelling. The story Nearly Nine describes a monster which lives in the narrow space behind the wardrobe: consequently, it’s shaped like a bath mat (and I quite liked that idea). The bath mat monster ripples across the bedroom floor one night, creeps up onto the bed where a child lies sleeping and—here’s the punchline—wishes him a happy birthday. And that’s the end of the story. This could have been done so much better: had the monster approached the child a few times but been thwarted, and had the reader had known that the monster felt the time was running out, the reader would have wondered why it wanted to reach the boy and there would have been some real tension to the story. As it is, we have some funny description of the monster, a brief moment of tension—and then it’s over, and nothing much has happened.

I’d advise this writer to work more on the structure of his stories, to consider developing their narrative arcs a little more fully, and to update his tone just a little. I read a respectable forty-nine pages out of a total of 369, and feel that this writer has plenty of unrealised potential.

A Different Kind Of Sentinel: Sir E J Drury II

October 8, 2009 Comments off

Personal Memoir

Having grown up in eastern Missouri, Sir E. J. entered the Navy after a brief stint at the US Naval Academy. For two long years did he struggle, in and out of sleep, with the true enemy of mankind — the Beast. And for the past twenty has he struggled to give form to this book, that you, the reader, might decide to join the fray and save humanity from its self and the destructive side of its animal nature.

A TREK THROUGH THE DARK SIDE IN SEARCH OF SOUL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

“…a truly remarkable memoir that is as much about the author as it is about the soul and their eventual reunion…”

“Haven’t you heard? The Beast has been unleashed.”
“What beast?” you ask.
“Why that part of Nature which still defies Consciousness.”
“I don’t understand,” you exclaim.
“You will by the time you finish reading this story. Trust me.”
“Why should I?” You inquire.
“You have your soul to free and heaven to gain, and little time for either.”

“Once I started reading the book, I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it. You go where no one has ever dared. And for that you are to be commended.” David Stewart, Stewart Publishing

“It may very well go on to become the book of the century, or for that matter, the book of the millennium.” Harold Terbrock, Retired Carpenter

Sir E. J. Drury II (who is credited as the author of A Different Kind of Sentinel) has a pretty good grasp of punctuation overall, although he uses far too many commas which has the effect of stopping the flow of his words and giving his whole text a choppy, staccato beat. And this over-use of commas is part of a much larger problem: the style that this writer favours.

He habitually inverts his sentences and uses a dated and particular vocabulary. These two stylistic quirks combine to give his writing a dialect-like air, and the closest I can get to describing the origins of that dialect is to suggest that it’s a sort of pidgin-Biblical. It’s nowhere near as rich, textural or magnificent as the text of the King James version, though, and rather than accentuating and emphasising Drury’s text, these linguistic quirks of his only serve to knock his many writerly failures into sharper focus.

Drury’s uncomfortable style, his frequent and perplexing changes of tense, the many nonsensical sentences that I found, and his insistence on recounting great swathes of his own dreams within the text, meant that I read just five of this book’s two hundred and eighty six pages. Sadly, this is another self-published book which fails to please.