Thursday, April 10, 2014


now I can go back to reading things I actually want to!

Glass House 51 by John Hampel.  This has quite a lot of people introduced early on, none with depth.  Who's important?  Who are we supposed to remember? to care about?  There's just too much going on.
The dialogue is meant to carry the plot forward, but mostly misses on realism.

Sutton Place by Louise Gaylord.  Too, too much going on here, too many characters.  This reads like it is the second in a series and the reader should know about characters and histories already.  It's difficult to follow.

The Trouble with Charlie by Merry Jones.  Excellent.  I enjoyed how the story was about the main character, her feelings and insecurities and friends, and there happens to be a mystery going on also.  Well done.  There were some punctuation problems (a backwards quotation mark, that sort of thing) and too many fragments for my taste.

The Black Stiletto: Stars and Stripes by Raymond Benson.  The author tries to provide several different voices/points of view for narration, but only Martin's POV chapters sound remotely natural.  In the diary chapters, the voice is far too juvenile, and in the Maggie POV chapters, far too clinical, like it's just another report (and there are so few Maggie POV chapters that it would likely have been simpler to incorporate that information in another way).  Makes me think the author just can't write strong female characters.

The Last Sewer Ball by Steven Schindler.  The main character wrote a book that has the same title as the previous book in this pseudo-series?  Isn't that a little meta?
This is technically correct, no major flaws; it just didn't grab me.  I didn't feel connected to the characters.  With so many technically-correct books, this didn't make the top-ten.

Replacement Children by Rick Maloy.  A fantastic book.  The southern vernacular as written for the main character and his family is sometimes difficult to understand, but score for likeable people reacting in realistic ways. 

The Puppetmasters by K.D. Lamb.  Poor formatting choices-- too-small text and extra line breaks between paragraphs (don't let Word auto-format your book!).
The writing style needs perfecting: sentences are either too short or phrases are poorly mashed in; actions and descriptions are predictable; dialogue lacks realism.

Saving Faith by Patrick M. Garry.  What a fantastic title.  Interesting story, likeable characters, no major flaws.  Well done.

The Wings of Dragons by Josh VanBrakle.  Fair enough writing, although stereotypically fantasy-genre.  Slightly predictable story but engaging enough.  Would have made a top-ten list in a sci-fi/fantasy only category.  Sorry, it appears I've run out of sentences.

I'm having a hard time putting my top ten selections in any kind of order.  They are all very good.
10: Replacement Children
9: Night Chill
8: Little Joe
7: Shadow Constant
6: The Trouble with Charlie
5:  The Old Man's Love Story
4: Utopia, Texas
3: Saving Faith
2: Saving Laura
1: Cradle Lake

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

5 more down.

Cradle Lake by Ronald Malfi.  Excellent.  Buy it, read it.  Excellent suspense levels; this book makes me rethink my dislike of all things creepy.  I wish I had been able to read it slowly!

Coldwater by Diana Gould.  This title is interesting but not spectacular.  There were some minor punctuation errors, but mostly what failed to grab me is that the main character lacks depth-- she is only a collection of problems and issues, and none of them particularly engaging or exciting.  We're supposed to dislike her, I think, and want to see her turn around and improve, but the change isn't drastic enough.

The Last Guardian and the Keeper of the Magi by Ashland Menshouse.  There's a lot going on in (or against) this book, none of it good.  This is book 2 in a series and the reader cannot jump right in: there is too much detail from book 1 needed to follow the story.  The author is not skilled at dispensing detail at the right times and the right amount; there are too many characters and a lot of fast action, and it's usually very difficult to follow what's actually going on.  The dialogue and character reactions are overly simplistic and lack depth and realism.  Finally, this should be in the YA category.

The Ruling by Jose Magana.  This is a huge book with tiny font.  Boil the story down for more potency, less rambling. 
The author does not have a god grasp of flow in paragraphs or within sentences; most sound clunky and uneven, sometimes because the author is trying to incorporate more detail than necessary, or is trying to wedge in a $2 word.
The author also does not have a good grasp of suspense-- he shoots himself in the foot by working up to something exciting, then killing suspense by giving history, etc. 

Knuckleduster by Andrew Post.  Thumbs up for fairly good writing.  Although the intended audience is obviously adults, several elements of the writing style combine to give a very YA feel-- sentence structure, short chapters, even the font.  This isn't necessarily a problem, just an obvservation.
The sci-fi element is interesting, and some of the details are good, but the basic premise is not believable.  That's a pretty big flaw, since the entire reason for the main character's choices is to finance this bad-science tool he relies on.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"I need your intention"... what my son just told me.  Intention, attention, same difference, right?  The nerf darts have now been found and all is well with the world.

Bankers, Brokers and Charlatans by Jamie d'Antioc.  A novel to introduce readers to ideas of business and finance?  No, awful idea.  A novel is to connect with readers, to tell a story about people.  The characters are the driving reason to write.  Facts support the story and add realism.  If the facts are the reason the books being written, that's nonfiction.  Fudging together some shallow characters won't make people interested in stocks.
The writing has a very firm sense of time... that's all wrong.  Based on how the characters talk and act, I'd believe this if it were set anywhere between the '40s and '60s.  These characters are not today's college students.

For the Love of Honey by C.G. Morgan.  The voice in this novel is good, and consistent throughout, but very difficult to read for long.  There is a reason we have standardizations in grammar and speech.
The story is good but the telling is a hurdle.

The Rise of Cain by Michael Koogler, Jed Q. Peterson, and Jaren Riley.  The description on the entry label is idiotic, juvenile, and not actually helpful.  Step it up.  Is that the first impression you want to make?  (here it is for you):

[instructions:] Describe this book in 75 words or fewer (printed or typed) and indicate the targeted audience.
[entry:] Target audience: Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jimmy Fallon, Lebron James... and anyone else that enjoys apocalyptic fiction. 
Description: Best.  Book.  Ever.

For real?
The writing is very true to the fantasy genre in every way.  The topic/focus will likely appeal to only a few.
This is the second in the series, but the reader can follow along well enough that reading the first is not required.

The Unification Symphony by Philip Rhyu.  This has good characters, but there are problems with the writing.  The author uses terms and turns of phrase that sound too modern for the time period.  There are also too many punctuation and proof-reading errors.

The Rat-boys of Karalabad by Zulfiqar Rashid.  The writing is good, with no major flaws and with a good sense of place.  This is the second in a series, though, and the reader cannot just jump in with this one-- there are too many people and the set-up is not clear.

Monday, April 07, 2014

International Edible Book Day

With several deadlines looming (last day at work last week; finish judging IBPA books, moving day, and upcoming new job still all coming up), I didn't have time to make a big to-do of this at work this year, but I still managed to participate.  I was honestly going to skip it because I couldn't come up with anything, but then I saw something like these guys online. 
I didn't actually cook anything (the toe part of the shoe is supposed to be a cupcake but I'd already packed away my muffin tins, so I just assembled these from various packaged cookies.  Not bad, though!  And I was quite pleased with how pretty the glitter sprinkles were.

3 days left.

Notown by Tess Collins.  This is so close to greatness.  I thought the time jumps wouldn't work, but the character ages well (and realistically) section to section.  The narration and dialogue are super; the author really captures the sound and cadence.
What knocks the book down are the "that day" sections.  We don't need the added suspense to want to follow the characters; they are strong enough on their own.  It's also confusing to jump between past tense/first person and present tense/3rd person.  The character presented in these sections doesn't jive with the character we see grow through the rest of the book.  Take out these sections and you'd have a solid book.

Gus by Martin Vlain.  This is a solid title with few errors, realistic and steady dialogue, and characters who aren't bipolar.  It isn't exciting or emotionally engaging as some of the other top-ten contenders, but it is more technically correct.

Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus.  Technically correct with a good level of creepy-factor-- good intensity of suspense and good lulls in between.  Possibly top-10.

Zandra's Journey by Darron Contryman.  Sadly overly simplistic writing, both in style and content.  This is more suited for young teens than an adult audience.

The Children Who Time Lost by Marvin Amazon.  The first portion of the book is very good, but it gets a bit farther and farther "out there" as the story progresses.  The author does an excellent job of releasing details about the world in bits as the story unfurls.  The book is about the character, and why would she stop what she's doing to hash out in detail the minutiae of her life and the world she lives in?  She's not talking to us.  Well done on that.
This possible future is too close to be plausible-- only 8 years away and we'll have robots and time travel and access to alternate timelines and parallel universes?  Nope.  This is where the story lost my buy-in.

The Way They See by Evelyn Marshall.  Good characters and a good setting with excellent sense of time and place, but too many grammar and punctuation errors.  So close.

The Jigsaw Window by Cameron Kennedy.  I had to live-update my Facebook status as I began to look over this book: "editing errors on the cover do not portend good things;" "the author's name is misspelled on the interior title page! can i just quit now?" and "this book makes me want to use more than one exclamation points. I'm in trouble now."  Surprisingly, despite the disastrous errors on the cover and title page, the contents are good-- interesting mechanism for telling the story, enough characters with enough going on that this could be a good book club choice.  I just can't get past the author misspelling her own name.

A Year in the Life of Dr. Fox by Frederick L Malphurs.  The dialogue and narration both are incredibly formal, not natural-sounding at all.  A number of proof-read and punctuation errors also detract from the reading.
There are many characters, none of which achieve any meaningful depth. The author wants to use the novel to make a social/political point, but the reader can't care about the issues if we can't connect with the characters.

The Third Peril by L. P. Hoffman.  The writing isn't exactly gripping, although it is largely technically correct ( some proof-reading-type errors remain).  This will likely be of interest to a rather small subset of adult readers.
The 5-year-old character isn't quite right, but isn't as bad as many child characters; readers without a kindergartener at home are unlikely to notice.
The author does a good job of following a large handful of characters, giving enough time to follow each closely enough to give some depth to each character. 

From Finland with Love by Ellie Alanko.  Dear Ellie: please engage me (or, really, anyone) to edit your book and then release a second edition.  This is so close!  It hurts my feelings that I can't include this in the top-10, seriously.
This as good characters that are pretty realistic and interesting, but the writing errors undermine the story-- dialogue that doesn't make sense (not attributed and missed paragraph breaks so in several back-and-forth conversations, the reader needs to go back and count forward who is speaking at what times) and some almost black-out periods, where the reader and the character are transported through time and space but it's not clear why the author would do that or how we got to this new point.  Fix these largely organization and editing errors and you'd have a winner.

The Concealers by James J. Kaufman.  The writing is fair, mostly correct, but without a unique voice.  It sounds like the author has studies and worked very hard to get it "right."  Unfortunately, the voice lacks spark or emotional connectivity.
The back of the book says it's second in the series, but it seems like it doesn't rely heavily on the same characters; it's fine to jump in with this one without reading the first if you wanted to. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

some near-misses. and some other books.

Emmanuel by Lilian White.  (Possible subtitle: "Created.  Tortured.  Murdered."  This appears on the cover but not on the title page.
This writing is so terrible: the concepts are all over the place, not organized at all; the dialogue is unnatural and the narration is jumpy and uneven; the punctuation needs a ton of clean-up, including no correct commas to be seen and way overuse of exclamation points.  The characters aren't realistic and don't react realistically to situations.  The time jumps are too big to allow for good plotting.  There isn't one redeeming thing about this book.

The Obexlanders: And the Assassination of JFK by TES. 
First, on the description submitted with the book, the title is descriped as "the penultimate in conspiracy theories."  If the author is using "penultimate" correctly, why does he not tell us what the true ultimate title is?  If the author is using "penultimate" incorrectly, it makes him look stupid.
The writing is very elementary-- there is little variation in sentence structure, concepts are repeated too much, there are copious punctuation problems, and the writer relies too heavily on sayings and cliches. 

Beyond the Bridge: A Dermot Sparhawk Novel by Tom MacDonald.  This is a good story with good writing in most ways.  The thing that's keeping this title out of the top ten for me is the main character's alcoholism-- it's written too strong, hammered on instead instead of being quietly woven into the story and character.  It's jarring and awkward instead of a character trait.  Otherwise excellent.

Lonely in the Heart of the World by Mini Meltz.  The second-person writing is weird and not working out, partially because the "you" is given too many details and is in fact not me at all. 
The writing is painfully stretching for metaphors.
There are some pretty big verb tense problems.
These characters don't have personalities, don't even have names. This story is vague and told from far away, without emotion.  The reader cannot connect.

Fatal Decree and Found, both by H. Terrell Griffin.  These are fairly good books and the notes below apply to both.  If anything, the author has a firmly established style that is consistent across both works. 
This fairly good writing-- interesting and largely error-free-- but the author struggles to weave in facts and to set the scene.  This makes the writing seem jumpy paragraph-to-paragraph and at times approaches being incredibly awkward in places, such as when he interrupts the story to give physical descriptions of people as they enter.  :(  Sentence-to-sentence the writing is pretty smooth.  This is smoothed out a fair bit by Found, but there are still jarring jump-to-description paragraphs, someone's physical characteristics and short bio in a couple of paragraphs, then we're back to the story.  This is largely what keeps it from being in the top ten for me.
The first chapters of each are great, grabbing and engaging.  They are written in third person.  Then the narrator comes in in the second/third chapter, and this is in first person.  It seems that the main character is not the narrator, and the narrator is more a chronicler.  This is an interesting method and not necessarily bad, but because the narrator is not present with the main character all the time, there is some back and forth between voices.  I think third person throughout, focusing on the main character, would have been stronger.
The main character's feminism is, first, what I categorize as an "older version" of feminism and doesn't fit with her age, and second, is too obvious and not very well incorporated with the story.  Is feminism is appropriate for the intended audience (older male readers) but isn't going to make too many friends among a younger audience.
this the author's impression of professional women?  I imagine the force and focus of the character's f

In both, the dialogue is very good, very natural-sounding, which is a real strength since there is so much of it-- it really carries the plot in placed.  But Fatal Decree more so than in Found, the organization of the dialogue leaves something to be desired; there is quite a bit of repetition of details in conversations.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

shame on me.

Up in Smoke by Katie MacAlister.  I don't have time to read all the books I need to judge, but I eked out time for a book for me!  I don't feel too bad, since it's the first since late January that I've chosen for myself.  I'm picking a much smaller category nest year!
Nothing new in this series installment, I look forward to more.

Gambit of the Glass Crowns by Ethan Risso.  (Stero)Typical fantasy writing style, no surprises there.  Beginning is very good, engaging, wish I had more time to read more of the title.  Not a top-ten considering the rest of the category, but could be a top-ten within a fantasy sub-group.

Chiral Mad 2: Anthology of Psychological Horror, edited by Michael Bailey.  Again, anthologies make it hard to judge each author, since we have to consider the work as a whole.  Overall, this was slightly sub-par in writing, not as tense or horrifying as anticipated.  Some short stories very good, emotionally engaging; some really not.

The Shadow Constant by AJ Scudiere.  Too heavy-handed in the beginning, forcing the main character's personality and difficulties: more caricature than character; don't lean so heavily on stereotypes for a more engaging character.  This calms down a bit, though, and main character is very interesting (although other characters always seem a bit shallow).
Writing is overall very good, just a couple places of weirdness (fight scene written in passive voice, for example).  Great book.

Tidal Pools by Lawrence Thackston.  Good, very near top-ten if not actually among the favored.  I wish I had time to savor it. 
Kind of a few too many characters for me, but that isn't a barrier for all readers.
Excellent first chapter.

Imaginary Flatulence by Ethan S. Edgerly.  What charming titles and section headers.
Writing is ok, style is pretty unique, main character is likeable enough.  Narrator/fictional writer is a bit dense and assumes the reader is more so.
Everything is fine, but that's about it.  There isn't much to care about.
The short stories are a little more engaging.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

le sigh

All the Shadows of the Rainbow by Inanna Arthen.  We all know my strong feelings about paranormal stories that don't conform to established rules for the species under discussion.
This is the third book in a series.  The writing is good enough, and the author makes it easy enough to pick up the story... I'm just not sure why anyone would want to: there isn't anything engaging or mesmerizing in the beginning, nothing to grab new readers.

On a Day Without Warning: A Work of Historical Fiction by James D. Fox.  I include the subtitle because, although it is more a descriptor (like "a novel" on covers), it appears on both the cover and the title page.  However, I think it inaccurate because I have the working definition that "historical fiction" means it would be before the lifetime/conscious memory of a majority of readers.  Events from the early 2000s are therefore not historical fiction, even though it happened in the past.  Am I the only one?
The author is going for an emotionally-engaging opening chapter, but he does not have the strength for this big a scene; this makes it not a strong start.
Terrible, horrible, terrible punctuation.  I was groaning before the bottom of the first page.  The writing in general is poor: stilted, unnatural dialogue and not enough sentence variation. 

Kismet or Kamasutra by Martha Rather. 
Very little sentence variation in length or structure.
This story tells: it relates so much history for characters and focuses on how people look and what they wear.
So, so very many exclamation points.  Let the story convey emotion, not the punctuation.
Organization not always clear.
If this is book 3 of the series, which begins int he present and tells a story that began 2 years ago, what could books 1 and 2 possibly be about?  Based on this, I can't imaging how this series is organized.

Deadly Diamonds by John F. Dobbyn. 
This reads like it's part of a series.  The author does a good job of helping the reader jump in, but there are a few too many characters glossed over a little too much.
Pretty good writing, if not always the most true-to-life (main character call his law partner "Mr.", i.e.).  Not ranked, but not bad.  I wish I could have more time with this one.

The Island: Never Will I Leave You by Roberta Kennedy.
Oh so many groans just in the first 2 pages-- terrible punctuation errors (mostly comma errors, but other types as well).  Possible formatting problems?-- so far, every apostrophe missing.
Verb tense problems-- the story is told in the present and uses past to talk about characters' history, but often gets confused and uses the wrong tense.
Facts very poorly woven into the story (... or not, I guess, in this case).  Some paragraphs are more a list of things to know and remember than a vehicle that moves the story along.
Nothing grabbing about the main characters, no reason to care.
Reading this is a complete slog through the terrible writing and punctuation to try to decipher the author's meaning.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I sit in judgment.

Dark Seed: No one knows what evil grows: An ecological thriller by Lawrence Verigin.  I can't tell which of the subtitles is the real subtitle, and which is a sub-subtitle or other weirdness sometimes found on the front of books; neither appears on the title page or in the publication information.

  • The sentences are uniformly short; variety would be nice.
  • Inconsistent comma use and generally poor punctuation choices throughout.
  • Narration/main character thoughts are shallow, repetitive, heavy-handed, and not realistic.
  • The organization of the mystery is fair, but dialogue and character reactions feel fake.
The Covert Messiah by JR Lankford.  It's hard to pick up a book mid-series.  The author doesn't do much to help readers remember (or catch up).
  • Inconsistent translation of Italian dialogue-- sometimes italicized, sometimes not, sometimes in quotation marks, occasionally no translation provided at all.  The spoken Italian is also sometimes italicized, sometimes not.
  • fragments.
The story line is largely well-written, if likely of interest to only a few.

The Muse by Sylvia Gilbertson.
I don't get the characters, particularly Michel.  I don't understand him, why he does what he does.  I understand Ada a bit better, but find her annoying, not a sympathetic character.  I read the entire book trying to get into their heads, and I can't tell if the book is poorly-written, or if I'm having an anti-social week.
I kept alternating-- it's good, it's awful-- and read the entire thing trying to figure out which.  The answer is, the sentences and descriptions are mesmerizing, the characters are very poor.

The Harem Games by Jorge Carreras Jr.   My notes:
  • terrible cover-- poor design, off center, ixelated.
  • sever overuse of all caps, exclamation points, and combo exclamation-question marks.  Even a "!?!" on pg. 3 already.  Dialogue and narration, not punctuation, should carry the story.
  • "kracks knuckles"? 
  • very poorly written-- it seems like the narrator is supposed to actually be talking to us, although narration not in quotations.  But if he isn't, what's with all the other weirdness: "(The scene shifts to the bridal holding area where the future harem brides are selected.) (p.5)"  Why not just unite that, describe it as part of the story?  It's maybe like this is suposed to be the behind-the-scenes track on this reality story, but so poorly done.
  • the narrator swaps mid-chapter with no indication.
The old Man's Love Story by Rudolfo Anaya.  I wish I had time to read this slowly, savor it.  I didn't anticipate enjoying this-- the writing style has the potential to go so wrong, but the author gets it just right.
Odd and interesting that the major characters aren't named, although minor characters are.  I suppose they have less of their own identity, so we can put more of ourselves into them.
Maybe not for a huge audience, but those who read it will adore it.  Perhaps a good book club title?

Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield. I really loved this book, the author's writing.  The first part of the book was definitely the better part, focusing on the main character.  In the second part, when he interacts with people a lot more, it was quite as great, although it's hard to say why.  The dialogue was realistic, the reactions were good; it was just something about the intensity of the writing not matching the expected intensity of the situations.  People are scheming and worried for their lives, but the writing didn't quite reach the necessary level of suspense.  The ending was also a little too quick (or not quick enough)-- we experience the crisis, the character doesn't die, but then there are two pages of wrapping up the next 30 years.  Those always feel so neat, too much so.  He should have stopped at the bottom of page 232 and just left it. 
Still an excellent book and an author to watch.

Friday, February 28, 2014

now i can submit

I've received the link to submit my actual entries, so now I can transfer all this to the real place for it.  I abuse Blogger as a holding place.

Tales from the Sea by Alexander Flint. 

  • each short story is marginally interesting, but relies eavily on stereotypes-- characters are not fleshed out.
  • illustrations at chapter beginnings are very poor.  even well done, they wouldn't have added anything.
  • with full-length nonfiction "confessions" from hotel staff and airline attendants currently and recently popular, I can see why someone decided to write this.  But nonfiction would have been more engaging.  If the author was determined to go with fiction, it would have helped the stories if they overlapped in some way, shared periphery characters or were presented in chronological order.  And why make the whole thing so short?  The length of a proper novel would have given time to introduce and explore characters; with characters from different backgrounds and parts of the world meeting on a cruise ship, several chapters begin by jumping between characters to relate their separate stories before they meet.  This gives it a very poor flow.
The Foot Soldier by Mark Rubinstein.
  • note from the librarian in me: books this size [it's a "novella"] are generally a bad idea-- it will get lost on the shelf, be impossible to find, get shoved around, fall between or behind things, and generally get bullied by the hardcovers.  if you can't fit a spine label on the actual spine, it's too small.  perhaps combine with other works by the author or stories of similar topic into an anthology.
  • a tired simile in each of the first two sentences of the book?  not a good start.
  • I have to wonder, why write this story?  it doesn't give background or explain slang or acronyms so it must be for people who read inside the genre.  but there isn't anything particularly special about the story or character, so why would genre readers choose it?  the main supporting characters are flat, there's nothing out of the ordinary that happens.  as a short story in part of a collection, it could be ok, but it certainly doesn't stand by itself.
Ambition by Stephen Maitland-Lewis. Is the point of characters such as these to make the reader dislike them intensely, so we are invested in the book to see them all get their comeuppance?  The characters aren't bad enough for that, but they are spoiled enough that any growth seems unrealistic.  An unremarkable story.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

here's the deal:

I brought home exactly 2 library books that I'd really been wanting to read.  The deal I made for myself is, I can read them every evening after I finish judging one book that day.  This has made me suddenly realize how much I enjoy doing dishes.  I need a new plan.

The Seraph Contingency by Jennifer Fales.  This book is likely to have a very limited readership-- the author jumps right in, in the first paragraph, setting up the angel-centric storyline.  That's fine, it's good to know where the story is going, but there's no time to hook readers; paranormal is still popular, and I've seen a few angel stories, but those stories don't seem to really appeal to your general paranormal reader.
Notably, there are problems with organization.  There are sections where sentences or paragraphs seem to be missing.  It also isn't clear if certain characters actually have telepathic abilities and it isn't mentioned, or if the author has forgotten who has actually said what.
The cover is one of the worst from this year's bunch, especially the back-- bold orange print on a rainbow background?  Ouch.

Spireseeker by E.D.E. Belle.  Again, clearly fantasy, which truly needs a separate category.
The first characters set up what this book is going to be-- about the plot and fantastical details, not people.  These are 2-dimensional characters, empty.  No one will feel for them.
The Beryl chapters are much better writing, less stereotypical fantasy, but little to write home about.
Contender for the "Worst Cover for this Year" award-- and why you shouldn't let your friend, who has practiced sketching elves since high school, make your cover art.

Zero Separation by Philip Donlay. Sentences are a toss-up: either very well-written, or a disastrous mix of fragments, incorrect comma usage, and too much thesaurus.  It does even out after the first few chapters.
The book is good-- technically correct, and with a quick-moving plot.  Suspense/thriller stories need to have a little piece of magic, though, to make them superlative-- just enough down time amid the suspense, the right intensity of thrill for the right duration.  This book doesn't necessarily do anything wrong, it just doesn't have the balance right to be spectacular.

American Fraternity Man by Nathan Holic.  The biggest deterrent is print size.  It is too small to read comfortably, requires too much conscious focus.  My eyes keep falling away.
The writing is good, although the topic seems like it would of interest to only a few.

Utopia, Texas by Michael E. Glasscock III.  This guy has been busy.  He seems to be trying out a (again) rather different voice in this title than the other two.  Some of the author's usually-great writing is misplaced in sections where he's trying to relate a lot of technical information.  The info is good and nice to have, but not at the expense of the story.  This is what will probably knock it out of the top-10 for me, but I'll still add it to the library.  (I wish I had time to finish this one!)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

not tempted to finish these.

The books I checked out from the library before the madness started, that I am now returning uncracked:
To the End of June: The Intimate Life ofAmerican Foster Care by Cris Beam.
Isle of Woman by Piers Anthony.
More than a Mistress by Mary Balogh.

A History of Stone and Steel by Christopher Fisher.  This book is technically very good, but nothing about it stands out, good or bad.  It is unremarkable.  It is beige.  The only thing that I noted is that not only is it written in present tense, but also first person-- who narrates their own life like that? 
based on there not being anything wrong with it, overall score is about an 8.

Caledonia Switch by Steven Lane Smith.  The beginning is very interesting, but as it starts going into the stories of the first character's parents, each of their parents, an aunt, and a family friend, it loses the drive. Who is important in this book?  Who is/are the main character(s)?  Where is this going?  The underlying writing style is good, it's the organization that kills it.
overall score is 7-ish.

Tropic Squall by Ben Cherot. 
Why are we breaking out the thesaurus every other word?  Just tell the story without trying to impress.  The writing style the author is striving for in narration-- in addition to feeling forced-- doesn't mesh with the main character's speaking style.
overall, about a 6.

Tears of the Willow by Marie Murphy Duess. 

  • Some formatting problems: paragraph text overlaps the page numbers in places, etc.
  • "paternal twins"?  (p. 55) really?  this is the point at which I lost most respect for the author.
  • annoyed by proofreading errors-- missing quotation marks, 2 people speaking without a paragraph break, etc.  I should not have to interpret what the author meant to say.
  • the present-day story and the historical story are poorly integrated.  the first story feels nearly wrapped up by the time the diaries are brought in, then they are presented in too-big chunks to feel like a part of each other.
individual scores are all over the place, average is just over 5.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

fiction with historical elements

Test of Time by Jacqueline T. Johnson.  My notes:
these descriptions are trying way too hard, so hard that they often contradict themselves.
the writing is so pretentious.  Just describe things, say what happened, without trying to impress.
a few dialogue-heavy pages, then pages and pages of narration that cover weeks and months, and go into backstories.  When will we settle into the story?
sense of time, place, not well-established.
overall rating: 3.

I Just Came Here to Dance by Susan Mary Malone.  My notes:
prologue is flawless but errors-- typos and fragments-- begin right away in Chapter 1.
narration (when not marred by errors) is fantastic-- just the right feel and sound, both.
"comforted" instead of "comforting," "splurge" when it ought to be "surge;" is the author trying to make elementary mistakes as part of the character (narration is 1st person), or are these actually errors?  If they are on purpose, I don't think they are doing what the author intended.
the time period is not clear.  The first few chapters make it feel anywhere between 1920 and 1960, but more modern ideas start dropping in after 40-50 pages.  We are unmoored.
overall rating: 6.

Twin River by Michael Fields.  My notes:
how can you miss a period?! (bottom of p. 6)
I can see what the author is trying to do, but he never manages to strike the right tone and the writing instead comes off as feeling too sensationalized.
overall rating: 4.

The Trial of Dr. Kate by Michael E. Glasscock III.  Although largely the same as the first book as to characterizations, descriptions, writing style, etc., there are some unexpected differences in writing style that would likely throw off a reader looking for more of the first book: the characters' specific backstories are told almost in flashback format.  There's nothing wrong with this by itself, but it makes the book move differently than the first.  Also, there is some significant foul language; again, it makes sense considering the characters the dialogue is coming from, but definitely takes the book out of the "clean" or "cozy" category the first book was in, and readers may be surprised.
Both books identify themselves as part of the "Round Rock series" and both are set in the same town and some secondary characters do overlap, but the main characters are very different.  There is also a pretty big time gap between the two books.  I wish we had a word or more concise phrase to indicate loosely-connected books that aren't necessarily meant to be read serially.

The Life of Birds series and The Life of Mammals series, both by David Attenborough.  I love documentaries.  Netflix needs to have more things by David Attenborough. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

cowboy romance, take two.

Haven season 4, with Emily Rose.  I was really happy to see Colin Ferguson because I love him, but it turns out I'm not so sure about how I feel about him (spoiler!) as a bad guy.  I'm also concerned about where they will be taking the show in the next season.  They really need to wrap it up before it gets really bad.

A Copper Mountain Christmas by Jane Porter, Katherine Garbera, and Melissa McClone.  This titles goes with the other cowboy romance I just read.  Cowboy romance + Christmas stories turns out to be too much for me; each story is like a Hallmark movie on chocolate-covered steroids... or, perhaps, estrogen tablets, I'm not sure which.
Anywho, my observations:
1.  Christmas at Copper Mountain: definitely the best of the three in this set, if a fair number of typo-type errors.
2.  A Cowboy for Christmas: minor, distracting errors throughout-- mostly missing commas or section where dialogue was obviously changed but someone's response wasn't edited to match.  This story lays it on awfully thick with the Christmas stuff.  I know that's sort of the point, but whereas the first story used the weather and the characters to set up the right feel, we know where this is going because the narration mentions a "Christmas miracle" every other page or so.
3.  Home for Christmas: inconsistent use of commas-- pick a style and stick with it.
note: messy smeared-ink sort of print smudges throughout chapters 2 and 3.
scores: pretty much the same.

The Molina Curse by Charles L. Fields.  First, it's obvious from just the first few pages that this is part of a series, and the author does nothing to help the reader remember (or catch up) to the story so far.  The blurb on the back is actually a pretty fair representation of everything that goes wrong with this book:

The Molina Curse is the sequel to Tainted Dish and the fifth book in the Charles Stone Travel/Mystery/Thriller series.  The protagonist faces several assassination attempts and a life threatening encounter in Australia's Outback.  His dog, Daisy is reintroduced along with characters from previous stories.  The reader will be reminded of our country's history through walks on Boston's Freedom Trail.  The Molina Curse provides tantalizing moments "Down Under", as well as aboard a cruise ship from Sydney to New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji and Hawaii. A love affair is tested and Charles Stone's life is in peril throughout until the curse is lifted by complying with mysterious forces within the Vatican.  Stone's final act of involvement with the dark side of the Papacy is one of the most bizarre in all works of fiction.  Unfortunately The Molina Curse ends on a sad tragic note.
I really wish I were exaggerating this, but I'm not, not even a little bit.  There are so many terrible editing errors, formatting errors (there's an upside-down apostrophe!), and could we get a few commas here?  You'd think they're made of gold, the author is so stingy with them.
The conversation is absolutely horrid-- completely stiff and canned, with the characters saying each other's names every other line.

Little Joe by Michael E. Glasscock III.  I was dubious that an author who feels the need to put this name on the front might have some sort of complex, or was maybe trying to make up for something.  This is actually a really great book, well-written is slow-moving, that will likely be popular among people who were young during World War II (like the main character); it may get some popularity as a book-group book.
My only criticism is that in the second part of the book, there is some jumping around in time.  For example, chapter 20 goes through August, but chapter 21 begins July 3rd.  This is not how the first part of the book was set-up and it feels sort of messy.
I actually thought about scoring this book some 10s.  It's certainly in the top 10.

Tomorrow Comes: An Emma Story by Donna Mebane. 
Why is the subtitle An Emma Story?  Are there other Emma Stories, loosely connected?  This isn't clear.
Why is the dialogue italicized instead of being in quotes?!  Look what you made me do, using two punctuations at a time. This actually made it impossible for me to read any where near smoothly-- we have conventions for a reason! 
There is no action in this book.  The writing is allowing the reader to very slowly get to know all the characters.  While I like getting to understand and get inside each of the main characters, 1) this was slow even for me, and 2) this is in no way going to capture or hold reader's in the target audience.
overall score: 3.

The Condor Song by Darryl Nyznyk.
  • some commas would be nice.
  • how many people are we going to meet for this story?  At least one per chapter for quite a while, and half of them are already dead!
  • terrible overuse of ellipses.
  • the parts that are meant to be suspenseful aren't: the writer is deliberately not sharing information in an effort to create suspense rather than letting the story carry the reader along.
overall score: 4.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

cowboy romance is new to me.

Haven, seasons 1 through 3, with Emily Rose.  I'm so binge-watching season 4 right now.  An excellent thing to watch while knitting until Warehouse 13 comes back. 

Color of Lies by Abbe Rolnick.  This book is relying alot on dialogue, but the characters all flit from thought to thought, not having a real conversation, not going where anticipated, and not reacting in a normal way.  Amidst the dialogue, the narration gives characters' reactions or thoughts, and I constantly find myself thinking "how did they get that out of that statement?"  It makes it a tough read.
about 6.5

The Prodigal by Michael Hurley. This reads mostly like literary fiction (is there a separate category for that?  there should be) but some passages, the trying-too-hard shows through.
For proper scoring, this book needs to be read cover-to-cover; me reading (or, more actually, skimming and judging anyway) a book a day doesn't' allow for that.
score is about a solid 9.

Love Me, Cowboy by Megan Crane, Lilian Darcy, CJ Carmichael, and Jane Porter.  This is an anthology of 4 romance novels (they each call themselves "novellas" but I think each would be long enough for its own book).
1.  Tempt Me, Cowboy:

  • Why start out making your main character such a bad guy?  This made it hard to get in to the story.  
  • There are some fragments, which normally upset me, but these are very natural-sounding, like how people actually talk.  
  • The length of time passing is not right; it feels like a month, but then narration reveals it has been a week and a half (p. 100). 
  • "p" in "Chapter Nine" not bolded (the rest of the letters are) (p. 103).  
  • Print this on mass-market-sized paper and it's a stand-alone story.
2.  Marry Me, Cowboy:
trying to use m-dashes, but they are all formatted improperly.  uniformly, but improperly.
3.  Promise Me, Cowboy:
more errors than the other stories-- missing quotation marks, no break for paragraphs when switching characters in dialogue-- but not an outrageous number.
4.  Take Me, Cowboy:  (misprinted on the copyright page as also "Tempt Me, Cowboy")
silly proofreading errors, particularly toward the end.

Overall: I never would have picked this up for myself; when I do want a romance novel, I usually stick with either historical fiction or paranormal: the cowboy subset has never really appealed to me, although I can certainly see why it appeals to some.
The voice/writing style was fairly consistent among all the stories.
I like how the stories overlap on their peripheries, but there are some problems with the organization and story set-up:
  • three of the stories are about a trio of friends; since all three friends get their "own" stories, the non-friend story seems out of place.
  • the first three stories mostly go sequentially (the second part of the first story overlapping in time with the first part of the second story, etc.) but the last story is the same time setting, the same week actually, as the first story.  This doesn't fit the pattern and throws off the whole.
  • the first story is the most graphic/explicit.  Two and Four are less so, but very similar to each other.  The third story is out of place in that it never goes farther than a kiss.  Perhaps some standardization in future volumes?
Overall actually an excellent title that I will add to my library.  score is a solid 9.

Reader by Erec Stebbins.
  • The fragments everywhere are distracting.
  • formatting: the hard return between paragraphs is distracting.  Don't let Word auto-format your novel.
  • the character talks too directly-- and far too frequently-- to the reader.  Don't break the fourth wall.  I can't think of a work of metafiction that actually works (although Redshirts was popular I still didn't like it).
  • 2084?  What year is it?  There has been no definite indication of time and this is jarring.
  • The story quickly becomes just bad.  Soylent green?  Ancient devices creating wormholes through space, placed there by a now-gone (now-extinct?) ancient alien race that may or may not have had a hand in the rise of our species?  Original ideas would have been so much better.
  • The language, especially the dialogue, becomes so stilted, but even worse are when an alien uses a present-day saying or slang, or even when the main character does.  Our phrasing and sayings of today won't last 90 years.
Can't fault it on some of the fields (technical mechanics are good), but overall reaction is a 4.

The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel.
  • very distracting typo errors-- missing "not"s, "devil-may-mare" (p.30), etc.  I should not have to figure out what the author actually meant to say.
  • through the whole book, until the last chapter, the only Starshine we see is through Larry's novel.  What is she really like?  I kept thinking we'd meet the real her, and that character as opposed to her character-as-written-by-her-quasi-stalker would be kinda the whole point of the book.  Nope.
  • the "real" chapters and the "Larry-written" chapters sound the same.  They need to have starkly different voices.
  • Larry and Starshine don't actually interact in the book until the last chapter.  Since the "real" chapters and the "Larry-written" chapters take turns telling the story and happen at the same time (now), he can't have written it, because they are both only just happening.  They take place simultaneously.  Is this more metafiction?
  • I was hope for so much more out of this-- either a better romance story, or a deep character juxtapositionm, something; this just kind wandered about and petered out.
average score is maybe a 6.

Mistress of the Solstice by Anna Kashina.
  • the chance from first person to third person between chapters is not a smooth transition.
  • alot of made-up words (or are they Russian words? this isn't clear; either way:) used inconsistently-- sometimes italicized, sometimes not; sometimes in quotations, sometimes not; and sometimes both italicized and in quotations.  Pick one and stick with it.
A great book, certainly within the top 3 so far.  Improvements:
  • minor editing/proofreading.
  • better sense of place.  (is this earth?  another planet?  if earth, exactly when are we?)
  • better explanation of the mythology at work.
The alternating chapters do seem less awkward than before.  The ending comes quickly and rather simply, all in a neat bow, perhaps too easy.  overall score, 9.5

Secretariat Reborn by Susan Klaus. This is another book I never would have picked up for myself, but it is very good.  A few parts of the dialogue seem stilted; not outrageous, but something about the phrasing strikes as slightly less-than-normal.  I think it's that Christian comes off as pretty naive, his responses to everyone-- his dad, especially Kate-- are... girly?  Normally, reading a book with a male main character, I just with it, but I'd be interested to hear what male readers have to say about this character.  I think they can tell it's a female writer.
Kate becomes a very unrealistic character, a major flaw in the story.
Still, overall, very good; solid 9s all the way down.

Literary fiction, "popular fiction," and several subsets within genre fiction ought not all be in the same category.  The instructions are to judge each book on its own merits, not comparatively with others, but the standards I have for sci-fi or romance are different (from each other and) from the standards I have for fiction or literary fiction.  I continue to struggle with this.