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review 2016-08-06 22:11
I don't know what these are, other than very bad writing
The Second Sister - Sarah Thorn

Well, the cover is lovely.


This "book" is actually a collection of 20 (or more?) shortish romance stories.  Some appear to be steamy, some are labeled "clean."  From what I can figure out, the outfit publishing them mixes up the assortment, slaps on a new cover, gives a different story top billing, but it's all the same terrible stuff.


At least it's free?


The first story in this particular collection is The Second Sister, a romance about a Duke and a commoner's daughter.  Of course it's predictable and shallow and silly.  It's also poorly formatted -- triple spaced?? -- and written in the style of a precocious ten-year-old who hasn't mastered the basics of narrative, dialogue, or punctuation, but is really good with spell check.


I made it through about half of the first story before giving up.  My curiosity has been satisfied.


Unless you are truly desperate, pass on this and all of its sisters.




Screen shot of K4PC app page showing spacing.


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review 2016-01-08 20:34
A well-written book is an invisible book
Sweet Surrender: A Mail Order Bride Themed Sweet Western Historical Romance (Mercers of Montana Book 1) - Evelyn MacQuaid

In the olden days of print publishing and agents and editors, the average reader could pretty much count on the book on the store shelf being reasonably readable.  Most of the unreadable ones never reached the shelf.


And in those olden days, agents and acquiring editors didn't waste their time reading the unreadable ones either.  The standard manuscript submission was outline/synopsis and a couple sample chapters.  That's all the agents and editors needed to determine if the book was worth reading any more of and possibly publishing.


Many of the agents and editors had learned -- because it was part of their job -- that two or three pages of the manuscript (roughly 500 words) was more than enough to tell them if the author had any writing skills at all.  If the writing was competent, the agent or editor would take a look at the synopsis to see if the story was any good.  Over and over and over, writers were told they had three pages to prove their writing ability or be consigned to the mailroom for immediate return.


Don't just take my word for it:


In Romance Writers of America, the only professional writers' organization that was composed of 90% non-professional writers, the lesson was learned so well that unpublished writers trying to win contests were known to polish the living daylights out of their first few pages or even have those first few pages professionally rewritten/edited in hopes of getting past the first hurdle.  In other words, they knew their writing needed improvement, but they were hoping their story was so fabulous that the editor would be willing to do all the rewriting to make the book the best-seller the author was sure it would be.


Digital self-publishing changed all that.  Today any old piece of crap can be published.  Many readers still think every book has been edited, even if only poorly.  (Read some of the Amazon reviews of the crappy books; people are still writing "This book doesn't look like it was edited very well" and similar comments.  The truth is the crappy books have never seen the eye of anyone even remotely resembling an editor, other than those editors and/or agents who summarily rejected them.)


So why did I give up on Evelyn MacQaid's Sweet Surrender after only three Kindle pages?  In my initial review, I stated three points.  Here's the expanded  analysis.


1.  Poor (or no) line editing.


Line editing is often done not by the acquiring editor but by a specialized line editor whose job it is to find errors of fine detail.  These may be errors that involve a character who joins a conversation before they've actually entered the scene.  Or the same window being closed twice without being opened.  Or the unnecessary repetition of a phrase.


When I read the first of Jude Deveraux's Velvet series back in about 1981, I pretty much lost interest when the phrase "night rail" was used far too many times on a single page.  Six times?  Seven?  I don't remember now, but it was too often.  I started seeing only the printed words on the page, not the mental images the author was trying to conjure.  Good line editing fixes this kind of unnecessary repetition and keeps the story flowing smoothly.


Both of the opening paragraphs of the MacQuaid book contained the phrase "cloud(s) of dust."  If I had been already sucked into the story, I might not have noticed this repetition, but it came at a particularly sensitive time.  My imagination hadn't yet visualized the scene, so each detail assumed extra importance.  Successful writers know this.  They're aware of the value of writing in a way that has been called cinematographically.  The director of a motion picture would not focus on the clouds of dust twice in the very opening seconds of the film when there had been no other details presented.


I might have been able to overlook this admittedly picky detail -- I never deny that I am very picky -- had it not been for the author's use of the word "coif" in the first paragraph.


The opening blurb to the book has already identified the character of Olivia Tarrington as English.  She would not use, not even in narrative point of view, a distinctly American informalism such as "coif."  She would use/think "coiffure" or just "hair" in this instance. 


Having read two paragraphs and had two red flags already up and waving, I addressed a third that had kind of poked the top of its pole up to snag my attention.


The author refers to the stagecoach driver's companion in the driver's seat as his "gunman."  While that word usually refers to an outlaw type character or one who lives by the use of his gun, I assumed in this case the armed man was there to protect the cargo and passengers from bandits or other attackers.  The more familiar phrase would be "riding shotgun," but that's grammatically inaccurate for identifying the person himself.  So I went with the assumption . . . until the other flags shimmied up the flagpole.


"Gunman" might be technically correct, but it doesn't feel correct.  It pulls this reader out of the story, makes me wonder if that really is the correct term. 


It's not.




Three strikes and you're out.



2.  Logic errors.


Let's start with transportation. 


Olivia is going from England to Montana.  This is clearly stated in the book's description.  Given the distance and the time, sailing directly from Europe to the west coast of the United States was an arduous and dangerous proposition, but it was also the only means of reaching the west before the building of the railroads.  Yet on the same page that MacQuaid claims her heroine had to travel by storm-tossed sea, she also says mudslides slowed her travel by train.


If there were trains, why did she make the far more dangerous sea journey around Cape Horn?


Not logical.


It's also not logical that her husband-to-be wouldn't have met the train at whatever station and escorted her personally to her destination.  But maybe there's a reason he didn't.  I'll not count this one against her, but it's still sitting in the back of my mind as a nagging question.  Where is he and why didn't he meet her train?


But the third error of logic has to do with this Lady Dubuque, who is identified as Olivia's chaperone(sic).  Well, yes, titled ladies in straitened circumstances might take employment as a companion, but MacQuaid then describes said chaperon as a wealthy widow!  And Olivia envies her independence so much that she hopes to become Lady Dubuque's companion after going through with a sham marriage to get her father out of debt.


Sorry, but to put it bluntly, that don't make no sense no how.


A wealthy titled widow in 19th century England would be traveling with servants, regardless where she's traveling.  If she is doing otherwise, then the author needs to provide at least some hint of explanation for things not being "normal."


And how does Olivia even know her husband will allow her to walk out of the marriage?  According to the book's blurb, the husband is supposed to pay off her father's debts and let her sisters marry according to their own wishes rather than be sold like a prize broodmare the way Olivia has been.


Three strikes in three pages.



3.  Too much telling, not enough showing.


In these first three pages, the reader is given some description of the setting -- the clouds of dust, the stagecoach, the robbers -- and some backstory.  No dialogue, and very little action.  Eventually there's some conversation between Olivia and Lady Dubuque, but this is a stagecoach robbery, for crying out loud!  There should be excitement!  Action!  Suspense!


"Throw down the gun," the man on the fractious red horse ordered in a surprisingly calm voice.


Olivia winced at the sound of the weapon hitting the hard ground.  She desperately wanted to watch what was happening, yet at the same time fear was making her squeeze her eyes tightly shut.


"Now climb down, driver first."


The coach tilted to the left as the overweight Mr. Hicks maneuvered his bulk from the driver's seat to the ground.  Olivia fully expected to hear a gunshot next, but there was only the continued prancing of the horse and its occasional nervous whinnies.  When Olivia dared to look again through the narrow slit between the leather curtain and the window frame, she barely made out the horse because his restless hooves had stirred up so much dust.  The other three animals stood stock still.


 Or at least that's a suggested way to do it.


Nothing in the first three pages of this novel has aroused my interest in continuing to read.  I already know what the basic plot is -- Olivia's been sold into marriage to a wealthy rancher -- and this opening hasn't given me any more insight to her or him or any of the other circumstances.  There's no immediacy, but there are lots of mistakes.  Self-publishing authors don't have the benefit of editors unless they pay them, and most of the affordable freelance editors aren't very good.  Instead of learning their craft, the authors rely on the "well, it's free; what do you expect?" excuse, or they throw tantrums when reminded that the readers are also investing their time.


Am I being unreasonable?  Of course, I am.  But if you're an author reading this review, I've just given you (as I have done so often in the past, you ungrateful little wretches) a couple hours of my time and an express company's strongbox full of writing lessons.


Evelyn MacQuaid, your writting didn't make it past the three page test.  Other readers might like it, but more than likely I won't be going back to it.  I want to be sucked into the story so thoroughly that I don't see the words on the Kindle, on the page, on the computer screen.  I want to feel the grit of that dust between my teeth, smell the sweat of the horses, hear the pregnant silence while the driver stands vulnerable and waiting to be shot.


I want you to make the book invisible.  You didn't do it.


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text 2016-01-08 05:56
At least it looks like a book
Sweet Surrender: A Mail Order Bride Themed Sweet Western Historical Romance (Mercers of Montana Book 1) - Evelyn MacQuaid

But that isn't sufficient.


I started this one, probably won't finish it. 


1.  Poor (or no) line editing.

2.  Logic errors.

3.  Too much telling, not enough showing.


That was after three Kindle pages.


I'm reading these so my friends don't have to.


More analysis to follow.  Maybe.

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text 2015-06-08 13:46
I haven't read anything in ages

I'm struggling to create a website.  The frustration has had me on the verge of tears several nights in a row.  I make tiny steps of progress, then hit brick walls.


I have a domain name, a hosting account, and have loaded it with WordPress and WooCommerce.  What I can't seem to figure out how to do is alter the storefront and pages' appearance, in terms of changing existing text on "buttons," or changing fonts.


The various blogs and step-by-step guides I've found have all been inadequate.  They either assume the user has extensive knowledge already, especially of CSS, or they reference two- or three-year-old versions of the pertinent software.


Then I remembered all the lovely alterations everyone (except myself) had done to their Booklikes pages, and I thought maybe, maybe there might be someone who could get me over the hump of ignorance so I can get my project off the ground.





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review 2015-04-26 05:43
Secrets of the Isle - Barbara Svetlick

This is Book 2 in a series, but I'm not sure what the title of the series is.


Book 1 is, I think, John Ellery's Daughters (The Ellery Sisters, Book 1).


This book is Secrets of the Isle (John Ellery's Daughters, Book 2).  Or some such.


This kind of failure to pay attention to details irritates me.  I realize that it probably makes life miserable for database librarians, too.


That's enough right there for me to knock at least one full star off an otherwise five-star book.  This wasn't a five-star book.


But at least it had indented paragraphs!  Yay!


It had little else going for it.


The front matter -- you know, all that boring stuff like copyright notice and so on -- was missing.  Absence of that basic information tells me the uploader really doesn't know anything about self-publishing, and may not even be enough of a reader to recognize the lack.  This is part of the business of being a professional writer.  If the uploader doesn't present a professional product, I'm inclined not to perceive that uploader as a professional.  More points lost, at least half a star's worth.


What this uploader did, however, was to provide an interior blurb that quickly started reading like a synopsis, and a cast of characters.  To tell you the truth, I skipped both.  I want the story to unfold by itself, without help from an author telling me what happens or telling me who the people are.  So I just flipped through those pages and went right for the meat of Chapter One.


Well, meat it was indeed.  Bloody meat, as in an opening scene in which a character is severely wounded.  This should have been a dramatic opening, but the first sentence was so long I forgot what the beginning was before I got to the end!  Then the point of view switched without warning in the second paragraph, and again in the third, with an unknown passage of time between the second and third paragraph, as well as a change of location, I think.


By the second page, we're into a dialogue between the wounded character and a doctor, with virtually no speech tags at all.  No action, not much of anything.  Then by page three, we're into a flashback to the wounded man's childhood!


That's when I quit.  Middle of page 3.


There was nothing at this point to indicate that this was a sequel that required the previous books to have been read.  And certainly heading back to the apparent main character's childhood right away further suggests that the reader doesn't need to be already familiar with him.  So that wasn't part of the reason why I quit.


The writing was stilted, especially the dialogue, and there were numerous punctuation and grammar mistakes.  I had already dealt with enough awkward and unclear point of view shifts to throw me completely out of the story.  To be fair:  I don't mind head-hopping at all, if it's justified and clear.  I enjoy a story shot with multiple cameras as it were, but I want to know whose eyes I'm seeing the action through and why the view shifted.  Svetlick doesn't make her shifts clear and she doesn't justify them.


Three pages of bad writing was all I could stand.  If the writing had been good, I might have continued, but I didn't have any reason to think anything about this book would get better.


I obtained this book when it was offered as a free Kindle download on Amazon.   I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.


DNF, do not recommend.



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