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Posts Tagged ‘poor use of detail’

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.

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.

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.

Dreaming of Deliverance: R E Chambliss

August 17, 2011 7 comments

Five years ago when Lindsay Paulson, a naive college student and talented distance runner, was 18, she was convicted of drug smuggling. Now, halfway through a 10-year prison sentence, she begins having what seem to be dreams, in which she leaves her cell in the night and visits another reality called Trae. Dreaming of Deliverance tells of Lindsay’s experiences both in Trae, where she finds herself among people enslaved by terrifying creatures, and in prison where she tries to make sense of what’s happening in her sleep: Is she actually escaping from prison somehow or is she losing her mind?

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When I review books for this blog I don’t often set my notes aside and read the book purely for enjoyment: but that’s what I did with Dreaming of Deliverance, and I’m very pleased that I did.

Ms Chambliss has a very fluid, readable style; I read all five hundred and fifty-four pages of this book in one day, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The typos I found were so minor that they didn’t intrude upon my enjoyment of the story; and I was genuinely sad when I reached the end and had to say goodbye to all of the characters I had come to know.

However (you knew there’d be a “however”, right?), despite my general enthusiasm I do have criticisms: and they mostly focus on the book’s plot and structure.

First off, it’s much too long. It could easily be cut by 20 to 30% without losing any of the plot, and that would improve the already-good pace no end.

There are too many instances where an important issue is mentioned just before it becomes necessary to the plot: for example, the news that Parl had gold deposits, and that Joel could disable the Loche (the terrifying creatures mentioned in the book’s back cover copy above) if he needed to. These things (there were several others) should have been built more firmly into the plot so that the reader could better appreciate the costs involved when such skills had to be used. The reader wasn’t let into the world of the Loche enough, so it was difficult to empathise with them and so understand more fully why they did what they did; and no explanation was ever given for how Lindsay ended up in Trae in the first place, or why she returned to her own world each time she slept.

The storyline involving the prison was unsatisfying: the prison was little more than a box to keep Lindsay and when she wasn’t visiting Trae and a lot more could have been done with this part of the book: I wanted to see some real resolution here, some more tension; and for events on each side of the story to directly affect the other.

In all, then, the good, enjoyable read which could have been even better had the writer improved the plot, made full use of the situations she created, edited far more ruthlessly and thought more carefully about pace and tension. I believe this is a first novel (I might be wrong): if it is then Ms Chambliss has done remarkably well and I look forward to watching her work improve over the years.

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.

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.

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.

Bastard Husband — A Love Story, by Linda Lou

June 9, 2011 8 comments

MEMOIR

“What happens in Vegas…

… doesn’t often find itself captured in prose as vibrantly as it does in Bastard Husband: A Love Story. On her thrill ride through romance, marriage, and divorce, Linda Lou paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to forge a new life as an ‘ageing nymph’ in Sin city.” ~Megan Edwards, Managing Editor, http://www.Living-Las-Vegas.com

A week after I arrived in Sin City, I attended a divorce support group I found in the local newspaper listed between Cross-Dressers of Las Vegas and Friends and Family of Incarcerated People. (And I thought I had problems.) As I sat among a circle of strangers waiting for my turn to share, I glanced at the Absolutely No Swearing sign hanging from the ceiling and thought, this will be a challenge.

“I’m Linda,” I began, “I have no husband, no job, and you people are my only friends.” Everyone laughed at my pathetic truth. ~LINDA LOU

Balancing poignancy and edgy humour, Linda Lou reflects on the troubled relationship that prompted this story and leads readers through a hodgepodge of emotions as fast as a Vegas buffet—from the sadness of a failed relationship and the questioning of her spiritual convictions to the thrill of exploring the neon nightlife and the triumph of performing stand-up comedy for the first time at age 46.

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Bastard Husband: A Love Story is a memoir of divorce and life in Las Vegas and although I found it perfectly readable and mostly error-free, I’m afraid that I didn’t warm to the narrator. Some of the scenes she described were terribly sad and her ex-husband’s treatment of her was abusive; and yet she chose to tell her story in a joke-filled style which stripped the poignancy from her words and instead made the book a brittle and uncomfortable read. She also has a habit of hammering her points home, which again reduces the effectiveness of the text; and she needs to brush up on her comma-use to, as she often uses them when they’re not required and so slows her narrative.

It’s so close to being good: but because of the problems I encountered I read just thirteen pages out of two hundred and sixty. I’d like to see this book rewritten to introduce more variety of tone, and then edited stringently. Some more positive scenes would be a useful addition, as would a little more empathy and a little less desperate humour. If that work were carried out this could well become a tight, enjoyable read: but as it is, it’s too slow and laboured, with a constant background of unresolved sadness which made me feel quite uncomfortable.

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.

Wastelander: Manda Benson

May 26, 2011 4 comments

When you live in a rubbish tip and your favourite food is your mum’s mouldy soup, life in the city is strange and confusing

Lenny is a boy from a family of barbarians living in a landfill site, who finds himself lost in a strange, sterile world. Although the people he meets are only trying to help him, Lenny can’t fit in, so he must make the perilous journey back to the rubbish tip to be reunited with his people.

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Wastelander has an extremely unattractive front cover with a strange Photoshop effect which doesn’t quite work. The writing is clean enough, with few technical errors; but it’s a bit on the dull side and quite a lot of it is unconvincing.

The main character lives on a landfill site and although there is quite a lot of detail dedicated to explaining how his people live, it’s not convincing. They are not sufficiently different to us; they don’t seem to have much of their own culture or language, and this lack of difference means that when Lenny accidentally leaves the landfill, the world he finds outside doesn’t feel terribly different to his landfill home. The descriptions of the strange new things he encounters have a coy, self-satisfied edge which made me feel as though I were being invited to laugh at Lenny rather than empathise with him; nothing is experienced through Lenny’s viewpoint, which again made it difficult for me to in empathise with him; and all the time I was reading this book I was thinking of Stig Of The Dump, which explores a similar premise so much more successfully.

In all, then, a flat read which misses much of the potential in an interesting premise. I read forty-seven out of two hundred and twenty pages and stopped reading because of the lack of writing flair, not because of my error-count.

If this writer wishes to improve she needs to think more of idiom and detail, get closer to her characters’ emotions, and make her characters believable, rather than cardboard cutouts who only seem to exist in order to move rather passively through her plot. And she needs to treat her main character with more respect, and not use him as a novelty to examine under a light and exclaim about: that, more than anything, put me off this book.

A little more research wouldn’t hurt either: my husband is a minerals surveyor and works with landfill sites, and much of the detail provided about Lenny’s life on the landfill simply did not ring true. I recognise that thanks to my husband I have an insight into the workings of landfills which perhaps most other readers would not enjoy(!); and that this book is fiction and so some artistic licence is only to be expected. But there’s a difference between artistic licence and getting things plain wrong, and that difference makes all the difference to a book.

The Modern Confessions Of St August Stine: August Stine

May 19, 2011 8 comments

The True Story …

of a renegade minister and his controversial journey through depression and religion. This unique story details emotional breakthroughs that will make you laugh and cry. The author has chosen to remain anonymous; thus he uses the pen name — August Stine

If you are down, this will lift you up

If you are up, this will inspire you

If you are in-between, this will stimulate you

psychology/self-help/religion/spirituality

Rated PG! Oh Gee! & My Goodness!

I can’t say I much enjoyed The Modern Confessions of Saint August Stine: it contains all the usual subjects—two hyphens are routinely used where em-dashes are required, there are a few oddly-placed ellipses, and far too many jumbled paragraphs; but I’m afraid that the big problem with this book lies in its author’s writing style.

Mr. Stine writes in very short sentences, and he tells the reader everything that happens and almost never shows; and this brisk, expositional style results in a text with almost no emotional depth despite its troubling subject matter of divorce, emotional breakdown, and loss of faith.

What this means, of course, is that the reader is hard-pushed to empathise with the story before her, or with the characters which appear, and without empathy reading is very unsatisfying. We need to be emotionally involved in a book to enjoy it and I’m afraid that this book left me feeling completely disinterested.

How to fix it? Editing won’t be enough. The writer has to slow down, and take more risks with his writing. He needs to explore things more, reveal more of himself, and show us events unfolding instead of telling us everything as quickly as he can. He clearly has a story to tell: but at the moment his rush to tell it prevents the reader from getting fully absorbed in it, and that’s a shame.

I read nine pages out of one hundred and eighty three and felt exhausted by them. I’m afraid I cannot recommend this book.

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.

Necromancer: Dune Elliot

May 5, 2011 7 comments

“The land of Ilyria is bruised and dying under the growing evil power of Morgeth. And the evil is spreading. All of Alatheia is in danger. As you read Necromancer you slip into a world of magic and mystery, both good and evil, that only a master storyteller could weave. Expertly woven into the tapestry of Alatheia is a small band of would-be heroes. Bound together by prophecy, held together by love for their land and each other, they will set out to save their world. Their journey is not easy, and there are those that will pay the ultimate price, but they will not fault in their quest to rid their home of the evil Necromancer.”

-Author Mary Adair

Necromancer has real potential although the story doesn’t feel terribly original. It gets off to a good, pacey start. The text is nice and clean, with very few typos or errors of punctuation; the mix of elves and valkyries feels a little forced to me (but I’m not a regular reader of fantasy so perhaps I’m being foolish here); and it would be pleasant to read about elves without silver threads and pointed ears being mentioned.

These problems are all minor, though, compared to the issues I found with the text. There were contradictions, exposition, extraneous words and tense-slippages which really got in the way of the narrative and stopped me enjoying the book as much as I would have otherwise. The good news is that it shouldn’t take much work to correct these problems and I suspect that the book which lurks beneath them might be rather good.

I read just four pages as of this book’s four hundred and eighty-two, but would have definitely read on if the writing had been just a little tighter. This is a good effort but isn’t quite good enough to make the grade: I hope the writer improves his editing skills before he publishes another book.

Few Are Chosen: M T McGuire

April 21, 2011 5 comments

Few are Chosen

The Pan of Hamgee isn’t paranoid. There must be some people in K’Barth who aren’t out to get him; it’s just that, right now, he’s not sure where they are. His family are dead, his existence is treason and he does the only thing he can to survive — getaway driving.

As if being on the run isn’t bad enough, when he finds a magic thimble and decides to keep it, he unwittingly sets himself on a collision course with Lord Vernon, K’Barth’s despot ruler.

Unwillingly, The Pan is forced to make choices and stand up for his beliefs — beliefs he never knew he had until they were challenged. But, faced with a stark moral dilemma will his new found integrity stick? Can he stop running?

Reader comments

“Funny and completely original, I loved it.” Joe, aged 13

“I am your number one fan.” Emily, aged 30 something

Many of the books I’ve reviewed here could have done with a good hard edit, and Few are Chosen is no exception. Where it differs from most of those other books however is that (based on the pages I read) it is most in need of a copy edit rather than a full-blown structural one. I found numerous punctuation problems, a couple of tautologies, some odd sentence constructions and some pretty naff typesetting choices which made the text much harder to read than it should have been.

However, I also found an engaging main character (even though his humour was a little forced at times), a fast-paced opening and a better-than-usual setup. If the author were to improve on the few weaknesses I found, reduce his reliance on exposition, and cut back on his use of adjectives and dialogue tags his book would be significantly improved.

I read four pages out of this book’s two hundred and forty-five, but despite that low page-count I might well return to it again.