Saturday, 31 January 2015

Book Review - 'Tis The Season, by Terri Main

Another very nicely structured and thought-out mystery, Tis The Season continues the Dark Side of the Moon series with all the things we have come to expect - a really clever mystery which the reader has no hope whatever of solving, a nice, middle-aged couple of detectives who are really believable, sympathetic, ordinary characters - no superpowers, no running in high heels.

I like these books a lot, and I'm continually frustrated when reviewing them, because I'd like to give them four stars, but with the poor editing, plain bad grammar and carelessness about facts, I just can't do it. The instant work, as well as Main's trademark intransitive 'lay', also has a staggering error in the words used by Catholics going to confession, something that hasn't varied for decades if not longer and would have been so very easy to check. With more attention to detail and quality issues, these books could pull down a reliable four stars from me every time.

'Tis The Season is available from AMAZON.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Book review - Spooky and Kooky Tales, by Carla Sarett

I absolutely loved this book. Sarett is a highly gifted writer, and she sparkles in this collection of short fiction. Some of the stories are creepy, some sad, and some funny, but in each and every one of them, the reader is firmly grasped by the scruff of the neck and taken where he least expected to go.

A particular strength of Sarett's is humour, and the last two stories particularly showcase this, and were my personal favourites. The utterly charming Losing Mr Franklin is the nearest I've ever seen this writer come to a love story, and was executed with dash and great style. The final story, The Rabbi's Lesson, is also hilariously funny, and in particular shows the sharp observation that is the hallmark of the real writer.

Of the darker stories, Happy Halloween was, I felt, one of the most horrifying stories I have ever read. I was very nearly in tears reading it. It is a striking demonstration of what I've always maintained, that you do not need a big hairy monster, or indeed anything unnatural, to show pure evil. I'll remember that story for a long time.

Particularly pleasing to me is the way that Sarett never overdoes her endings; there's a tendency nowadays to feel that every loose end must be knotted off, every question answered, and nothing left to the reader at all. This most important discipline of a good writer, knowing when to stop, is something at which she excels. It makes the difference between a truly fine story and one that would have been merely good.

The whole collection is impeccably written, and like Saki's stories, this book is one to keep, treasure and revisit.

Spooky and Kooky Tales is available from SMASHWORDS.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Book review - Insanity, by Cameron Jace

A charming, whimsical mystery, based around Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, Insanity is beautifully original, and not at all what I was expecting.

I'd have liked it better if more attention had been paid to developing the characters, whom I found a little flat; as they are all characters from Carroll's book, it is possible that this may have been intentional, but even if so I think the book could have benefitted from making them a little more real.

Insanity is available from AMAZON and SMASHWORDS.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Book review - Murder on the Martian Princess, by Terri Main

Murder on the Martian Priness contains all the usual quality issues that make me cringe - misplaced apostrophes, failure to use past perfect tense where required and the egregious intransitive 'lay'. In addition, it seems not to have been spellchecked and there were several strange factual errors. The liver in the lower abdomen? Really? And who misquotes Pinafore, for heaven's sake?

Despite all this, if you can see past it, it's a fun, intriguing murder mystery. This is the latest offering in the Dark Side of the Moon series, and I've kept reading them despite the issues I mention above, because they really are good detective stories, not an easy thing to write, and very clever. Not once have I successfully guessed the villain in one of these books, and the instant work is no exception.

Murder on the Martian Princess is available from AMAZON.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Book review - Real Santa, by William Hazelgrove

This book is really something special. I was expecting a schmaltzy little Christmas story, and it just blew my socks off.

It's about parenting, it's about love, it's about not fitting in. It's about truth and lies and the lies that express a deeper truth. All served up with the sharp observation of a real writer's writer. Hilariously funny, and yet at times so moving.

It's not my habit to give out spoilers in a review, so I shan't say much about the story, other than that whatever you were expecting, this book is almost certain to surprise and delight you.

I'll be looking out eagerly for future offerings by this brilliant writer.

Real Santa is available from AMAZON.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Book Review - Discovering the Teachings of Christ, by Terri Main

The contents of this wonderful book are treasure. Main presents and explains the main teachings of Christ with wit and scholarship. Each section has a group discussion guide, making the book a great resource for Christian study groups.

There's no arcane theology or subtle twists of logic to confound a young reader here. A particular gift of Main's is the ability to express quite complex thoughts in a way that's simple and easy to follow. The book is a fantastic resource for any Christian, whether new or established.

Where the book fell down, sadly, was in the formatting and presentation. I was horrified to realise that the section on the Beatitudes had been edited using Track Changes, and the changes had not been accepted before the book was uploaded for publication. This section is therefore very, very hard to read, and had a faint flavour of the multiple-choice 'letter home' that Geoffrey Williams made so famous - rather unfortunate, considering the subject matter.

Discovering the Teachings of Christ is available from AMAZON

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Book review - Dogs In Space, by Susan Day

I don't get many children's books to review, so Dogs In Space was rather a treat. It's silly in the way that books for small children are, but it is the magnificent silliness that one finds in the best children's books.

The earnest, bumbling dogs are very dog-like, and the wonderful arch-villain, Speed Bump Charlie, is beautifully wicked. Such a very catlike cat. This faithfulness to the animals' essential natures gives the book a level of realism that I found pleasing, despite the traditional elements of children's book that have paws functioning as hands, things being removed from pockets, and so on.

The book is well paced and the action is kept up and does not flag at all; there's an evenness to it that is very pleasing. It would work well if read to a child in a number of sessions.

I note with approbation that Dogs In Space is the latest volume in a fairly extensive series, and feel sure that future generations of adults will look fondly back on the Astro's Adventures books as a childhood classic.

Dogs In Space is available from both AMAZON and SMASHWORDS.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Short Story Review - A Werecat's Journal, by Roy Booth and Brian Woods

I was a little disappointed with this book, because I thought I was buying a novel and it was only a short story, but it was entertaining enough.

I did think it could have done with editing, for the grammar was a little rough, and there were several spelling mistakes of the kind that can't be picked up by spellcheck. In particular, the abrupt tense switch at the beginning was rather offputting.

But the main criticism I had of this story was that for a werecat, the protagonist just did not have the personality of a cat. There was nothing catlike about him; in fact he was more like a dog, with his friendliness, his trusting nature and his loyalty.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Book review: Forecast: Murder, by Terri Main

Like its predecessor, Dark Side of the Moon, this is an entertaining and well-constructed detective mystery. I could not fault the construction of the plot and it was an intriguing and satisfying read from that point of view. If Main has a weakness it is dialogue - I thought the dialogue often stilted and unnatural, and despite the very different backgrounds of the two main characters it was often difficult to know who was speaking.

Where the book falls down, though, is in the quality control area. There is much poor grammar, including the appallingly cringe-making intransitive 'lay', and even spelling errors. I found this particularly irritating in the mouth of a character who often remarks about her own perfect grammar.

Main has a real talent, and I thought it a great pity this book did not receive the care and attention that it deserved.

Forecast: Murder is available from AMAZON.

Book review: Murder is a Family Affair, by Terri Main

Even the blurb for this book has the horrible 'lay' used intransitively. This appears to be Main's calling card, as I have seen it in almost everything of hers that I have read. This makes me cringe so badly that I find myself reviewing her more harshly because of it, and it's a shame, because these Dark Side of the Moon mysteries, of which the instant work is the third, are really very good.

As well as misused apostrophes, 'loan' used as a verb, inappropriate punctuation and utterly ridiculous mistakes of word choice ("in his morning coat and wainscot"), not to mention the writer's apparent failure to grasp the use of tense at all, there is also factual sloppiness in this book. Of particular note is the frequent reference to Bram Stoker's character Van Helsing, who is misspelt throughout as 'Van Helsig'.

This book is in a much worse state in this respect than the first two of this series. It seems as though it may have been rushed into publication in a great hurry. I find this extremely disappointing, especially coming from an author of Christian devotional literature; it seemed to me that to do one's work as well as possible, when it is being done for money, is a necessary aspect of 'Thou Shalt Not Steal'.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Book review - Dark Side of the Moon, by Terri Main

This is an entertaining read, a blend of SF with a murder mystery. But unfortunately marred by several glaring flaws.

The dialogue is often stilted and unnatural, with characters making long speeches in situations where this simply doesn't happen, such as introductions. The affectation of the protagonist's speech, devoid of the standard contractions of everyday casual language, set my teeth on edge.

This, however, was as nothing beside Main's evident failure to understand the operation of tense, and her intransitive use of 'lay'. It is a great pity the book did not pass through the hands of a competent editor.

Dark Side of the Moon is available from AMAZON.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Book review - The No Excuse Zone, by Terri Main

This great little book approaches the work (yes, the work, not the 'art' or other highfaluting term, but the WORK) of writing from the point of view of project management.

One reads so much airy-fairy twaddle about writing today that it was utterly refreshing to encounter Main's completely no-nonsense approach. Starting with a merciless, although not unkind, exposition of the fallacy of making excuses for non-performance, she takes us step by step through a solid, do-able methodology for setting realistic, achievable goals and then achieving them. Reliably, every time.

Main's work, as always, distinguished by limpid clarity and painstaking detail-mindedness. No assumptions are made unexamined, no steps skipped in this blueprint for a successful job of writing (at least, successful in terms of finishing the job; of course Main cannot guarantee talent to anyone). I particulary cheered at her contemptuous dismissal, just in passing, of 'the myth of inspiration.'

I would heartily recommend The No-Excuse Zone to anyone struggling with productivity, not just as a writer but in any long-term, self-directed project.

The No-Excuse Zone is available from AMAZON.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Book Review - The Apostle Paul: Up Close and Personal, by Terri Main

This little book reminds me of the old-fashioned 'pocket books', as I used to call them - those tiny editions that one could slip into handbag or pocket and dip into as one went about one's day. Each section is short and simple and deals with one specific aspect of Paul's ministry. It could be used either as suggested, to drive a group bible study/discussion group, or for solitary devotional reading.

I am no biblical scholar, but the doctrine seemed sound to me. I did think, though, that the mention in one of the sets of suggested discussion questions of 'how we can live as Americans' was inappropriate, introducing as it did a political element into the faith content. I found that ironic in light of the author's very correct insistence that other things cannot be mixed in with Christianity.

The Apostle Paul: Up Close and Personal is available from AMAZON.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Book Review - Ridiculously Simple Self-Publishing: Do-It-Yourself E-Book Cover Design, by Terri Main

This basic primer of cover design delivers exactly what it advertises. The step-by-step approach, divided into short chapters dealing each with a single aspect of cover design, presents the material in an easily accessible way, and embodies sound educational principles in the way that each successive element is built on to what has gone before.

The simple, easy-to-follow language, punctuated with lots of pictures and screenshots, makes the book completely easy to follow, even for a graphics failure like me. The complete range of issues in cover design are covered, from layout design right down to the nitty-gritty of choosing a font, and there's even (a bonus!) a short tutorial on using Gimp.

Something I particularly appreciated was Main's sensible, down-to-earth attitude to cost. There's no unrealistic, high-faluting admonishment to buy this or that software, pay expensive cover designers, etc. Main recognises the cost limitations that an independent author, unsure of what level sales will reach, must accept.

It was a pleasure to read this book, I learned a great deal from it and it is going straight to my Kindle's Reference Section.

Ridiculously Simple Self-Publishing: Do-It-Yourself E-Book Cover Design is available from AMAZON.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Restaurant review - Romulus and Remus, Richmond

At first glance the location didn't seem very promising. The depressing end of Bridge Road isn't where I normally expect to find fine food, but there it sits, and there we were, meeting a large group of friends for a pre-Christmas lunch.

This restaurant is downstairs from the dance studio where I spend a lot of my evenings, so I was already familiar with its inside enough to know that they serve truly excellent coffee, and that their barrista is among the elite of his profession, remembering my rather unusual coffee order perfectly without prompting only the second time I went there. I'd often thought about sampling the food, but it's always so busy and I'm always so tired and in a hurry that somehow it had never happened.

The venue is quite inviting looking, decorated in a comfortable, unpretentious style that I think of as 'smart casual'. There was no difficulty in pushing tables together for our party of ten, and the waitstaff were efficient and cheerful. So far so good.

Smart casual decor

But of course, it's the food that really matters. Now I am not a regular foodie, and I don't often blog about food, nor am I in any sense a qualified gourmet. In fact, I can't stand cooking, and as soon as I've satiated my hunger, I'm not that keen about food in general. You won't find me huddled in a corner during tea breaks drooling over food porn, or watching any of these extreme cooking shows (although I must admit to a soft spot for the lovable, cuddly Gordon Ramsay).

But I do know about pizza. I've been eating pizza since I was in my teens, and that was a LONG time ago. In fact, there was a time when I spent a month without eating anything else. Yes, overbooked work commitments, story of my life. During that time, my cat learned to love pepperoni. Another story for another day.

RooRoo, a true gourmet and pizza afficionado
So, as it was a casual lunch, I decided to order pizza. Here's the description of it:

"Crying Little Caesar", topped with spicy chilli crusted salami, spiced pork sausage, roasted peppers, olives, chilli sauce and peppery rocket.

Now I have had a lot of pizza in my life, as I've mentioned, but never, ever had I eaten one as good as this. Nor one so filling! I can usually count on demolishing the whole of an individual pizza, but, sensational as this one was, I could not eat more than half of it, despite not having eaten at all that day and despite my best endeavours, which are nothing to be sneezed at. I've been known to eat an entire family size pizza on the way home from picking it up. (No, it wasn't a long drive. About ten minutes, as I recall.)
Crying Little Caesar. Nothing to cry about here, unless they were tears of joy.
So there you have it. The location might not be terribly salubrious, but it is very convenient if you're going that way. The food's to die for. The coffee's of the first rank, the staff are pleasant and know their jobs, and as if anything else were needed, the ladies' room is like something out of a movie set.

The lav.

Romulus and Remus is located at 648 Bridge Road, Richmond. Their telephone number is (03) 9429 3042, their Facebook page is HERE and their pretentious website is HERE.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Book review - Both Sides Now, by Shawn and Dawn Inmon

This book is the companion volume to Feels Like The First Time, by the same author. I have to say it didn't really engage me; having recently read Feels Like The First Time, I felt as if I were reading almost identically the same story over again. The technique of telling the same story from several viewpoints is one that I like, but I think for this to work really well in fiction there has to be some kind of contrast or conflict between the two versions, so that the product of them is greater than its parts. Of course, with a work that is essentially autobiography, one doesn't really have this option, and I felt that the two books would work better published as a single volume.

That said, it is a lovely story, and, I think, would make a really great film. I could imagine such a film grossing hugely. One can only applaud the writer's, well, and his wife's too, searing honesty. Few people, I think, would have the courage to lay their lives bare to the public in this way.

The writing is even and just like that in the first book. Just as a matter of style, I think I'd have like to see Shawn and Dawn differentiated a little more in the writing, but with non-fiction one must, of course, stay true to the facts, and perhaps their personalities are so well matched that this wasn't possible.

As with Feels Like The First Time, I cringed every time 'lay' was used intransitively, but I feel that as counsel for the defence I might argue its appropriateness when writing in the first person of a dialect speaker, and so make allowances for the possibility that this was in fact what the author intended.

Both Sides Now, and its companion, Feels Like The First Time, are available from AMAZON.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Book Review - Cold Winter's Night, edited by Rhoda d'Ettore

This collection of short fiction from independent writers contains, as advertised, a wide variety of material.

Several of the stories have merit. DiStroya's zombie story, Home For The Holidays, was delightful, and a refreshing departure from the usual zombie apocalypse that has become so tediously ubiquitous of late. JJ Francesco's Glimpse, a sweet little traditional Christmas story, is very nicely done. Another traditional Christmas tale, The Gift, by Jayson True Blood, was charming. Regina Pickett Garson's The Most Enduring Gift was charming and quite well written. Similarly A Fitting Gift by Nicola McDonagh, a chilling tale of horror, well thought out and executed. Editor Rhoda D'Ettore's own contribution, Love, Revolution Style, was nicely done, although I felt the ending was rather rushed and much more could have been made of it. The Professor's Pleasures, by Fallen Kittie, got off to an excellent start with some quite powerful writing, but failed dismally half way through when it inexplicably descended into pornography. A waste of a fine idea.

Some, on the other hand, were of an unmitigated dreadfulness that suggested to me that, due to a dearth of submissions, all were published without selection.

Taken as a whole, the book, for me, epitomised the criticisms so commonly made of independently published work. Every single story desperately needed proofreading, and the whole thing had the air of having been thrown together in a great hurry, perhaps to meet a deadline. The formatting for Kindle is appalling, and one wondered if it had even been downloaded and checked in the headlong rush to publication. There is no table of contents, which in an anthology, particularly one published as an ebook, is a grave omission and most inconvenient to the reader. The editor's decision to present the stories alphabetically by the authors' surnames, understandable as it may be from the point of view of equity, was the single most unwise decision in the entire enterprise, resulting as it did in the opening story's being the worst of the lot, and doubtless costing the group many sales as it occupies Amazon's 'Look Inside' position.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Book Review - In Shambles, edited by Samantha LaFantasie

This book reminded me of the bags of lollies we used to buy as children. 'Twenty cents worth of mixed lollies', we'd say, naively casting ourselves on the generosity of the shop ladies, which generally worked out a lot better than we deserved. There'd be some of everything, some of the coveted Cobbers, everyone's favourite, and also some of the despised el cheapo Milk Bottles et alia.

In the same way, this book is a mixed bag, containing some really wonderful stories, and some that are.... well, there was always one kid who liked Milk Bottles.

Deserving of special mention were The Old Kodak, Raising Rudi, Samaritan and my personal favourite, Four Houses Down. I just can't say how much I enjoyed it. The book is worth buying for that one story alone.

I also very much enjoyed Wildman - the technique of telling the story around a whole collection of first person accounts by minor characters is, although not new, something I always enjoy, and it was very creditably excecuted, although I'd have liked to see the different characters' language more strongly differentiated and I'd have left off the last section, as I felt the reader was made well aware of what happened through the story. An epilogue telling the reader what really happened shouldn't be necessary if the writer has done his job, and Mr Woods certainly did his job well enough.

Mama also pleased me greatly. A chilling tale, and somehow the writer succeeded in capturing the atmosphere of an old Japanese film. Sadly, it was spoiled for me by very poor English.

I note that Samaritan and The Hand Me Down were edited, and I must say I think it a great pity that Mr Duckworth did not extend his editorial hand to all of the stories.

Finally, something I seem to say about independent books with depressing regularity - insufficient attention has been given to presentation. The proofreading appears to have been rather sloppy. All in all though, an entertaining read, with a few exceptions.

In Shambles is available from AMAZON.