Thursday, 25 July 2013

Review - Thin Ice by Alex Keena

Five students end up marooned in the middle of a frozen lake in the depths of winter after a car crash. With no phone signal and the weather worsening there seems no hope of rescue and less chance of getting off the lake alive.

Following a potentially interesting premise, I have to say I was hugely disappointed by this book. It proved to be by turns frustrating, bizarre and disjointed. The five characters who are trapped on the lake – Matt, Sam, Mya, Lisa and Essie –are fairly insubstantial beings. I couldn’t relate to or like any of them. All were irritating in their own way and not even worth describing.

One by one the students, unable to get off the lake because as soon as they move any distance from the car the ice cracks, thankfully die off in a variety of ways until about half way through when a mystery man appears. He manages to walk across the same ice no-one else could to rescue two survivors. In a couple of pages, the author wipes out the whole basis of the novel. But it’s not over yet because Thin Ice gets really odd once the pair are in hospital they’re attacked by one of the apparent dead.

The story then really goes off the bizarre scale when the one last survivor is suddenly at the man’s house who rescued them. No explanation why. Then she’s back in the hospital, then at a funeral, then in a mine being chased down by the rescuer, all with no understandable and believable transition between the locations. It’s as cheesy as ripe brie.

But there’s more. You may or may not remember the original Dallas series, when Bobby ‘dies’and a series later comes back from the dead? If not, look it up. Well, that’s what Thin Ice is all about…I suspect the author hoped this would be a major twist, unfortunately it was very obvious.

There were a couple of high points, such as the crash and when the car sinks into the lake with someone trapped inside, but they were pretty much it.

As to the mechanics of the tale. The author made many repeats of the same word(s) within the same sentence(s). This is something I find particularly annoying because basic editing will sort this issue out. For example:

“…in a few minutes, that will be frozen solid and you’ll be frozen along with it!” Matt looked down at the freezing liquid that now covered the ice.

Then there was the SHOUTING. Yes, lots of words and even whole sentences in capitals for emphasis. Ouch. Also a lot of dialogue was punctuated by … which is easy to over-use and the author slipped into this other bad habit quite readily.

Finally the overall writing style was clunky, it just didn’t flow well. For example:

Like he, himself, had been, Lisa was also suspended upside-down but, unlike him, she didn’t suddenly wake up.

Thin Ice just about crept over the two star line saved by the reasonable premise in the first half and a couple of heartbeat moments. But only JUST.

Rating? Two Stars
Would I add this to my bookshelf? No
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Review - Magenta Opium by Sharon Baillie

Veronica Dempsey divides her time between disposing of a body and inventing a new form of opium in her loft.
Where to start with Magenta Opium? First, I absolutely hated it. The opening chapter was horribly confusing. My initial view was the author was attempting a Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night Time approach with Veronica – police come knocking at the door and this is explored in an intricate and bizarre fashion. In particular the words ‘door’ and ‘letterbox’ are used incredibly repetitively 24 times in a couple of pages.
Likewise with the door, although able to be a door at standard temperatures and pressures, its door-like qualities are not altogether independent of temperature. At 800 degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit, choose your poison) the door would be a doorway plus mess. At -200 it would be a wall; immovable. This is precisely why the Inuits didn’t invent alloyed metals.
I really struggle with repetition. It can work, like in Catch-22, but the writing has to be skilful. Guess what? It’s not, this is way off the scale.
This repetitive approach is used continuously throughout the book. Routine is used 30 in 144 words as well – there are others. The author also tries a Vernon God Little approach using Veronica’s initials in a (very large) variety of words. There’s also a person called Smyth who often reminds us it’s spelt with a Y (yes the capital is deliberate) – even though I can read that for myself. This habit of repeating points already made is also often, erm repeated. I don’t know why.
The ‘story’centres on Veronica for some reason deciding to make a variant of
opium. Apparently, she’s a genius, but mad (hence the crazy prose, more of that shortly). After the door incident we learn that Veronica’s mother has been living in the loft, unknown to husband and daughter for over 8 years (yeah, right). Now for another example:
The motherfound woman, once a motherlost girl, and wifefound man, happy and pungent wifelost man the day before, were taken in for questioning.
This is because the presumed dead woman living in the loft has been selling counterfeit DVD’s and partaking in online porn. And the family didn’t know for over 8 years (yeah, right). Veronica’s mother ended up in the loft because she was going to run off with a man, but after a tryst she decides against it:
Fortunately for Jessica all he wanted was a go of her. Unfortunately for Jessica all he wanted was a go of her. Unfortunately for Jessica he wasn’t very good. But fortunately for Jessica he wasn’t very good.
The opium development leads to a death and then disposal of the body. The problem is if the focus was on this thread only the book would (mercifully) be only a few thousand words long. When the opium works Veronica says:
It worked. Did it work? What worked? It did. But did it? It did. What did it do? How did it work? Chemistry. Why did it work? Magic. It did work though, eh? It worked. Did it work? How? Chemistry. Why? Magic. Because. And then. Ha! It worked! Stone me! They might. It worked. It did. It did. It did.
There is even a chapter late in the book where the author describes activities such as‘ties were tied’, developments were developed’, ‘traffic light changed from green to amber to red…(and back again several times)’ – this goes on for page after page with the summation at the end: ‘In short, life in the world progressed for several weeks, unaware of the life of Veronica (where do we go from here?) Dempsey et al.’ I don’t know why.
There are also little footnotes explaining comments, films, and odd little made up words like interpium (internet opium, which was explained several times too). Here are a couple more of the writing examples I found so frustrating. Just a few of the many, many that I could have used:
The void that wasn’t really there that he paid a big-strapping-woman to fill was not filled with sex. Not in the classical word sex.
13 people liked this, 8 people commented but none of the comments commented that the status would have benefitted from a comma.
Sofia pulled Proctor down on top of her and kissed him. His rare cooked steak complimented her Pinot Grigio and their superstring section crescendoed together.
And perhaps my ‘favourite’:
”Let’s get a penguin as a wedding present. We’ll call him Frederick on Sundays and Freddie the rest of the week. I don’t mind if he can’t dance, we’ll still love him. Or her. She can be Freddie as well as and Fredericka on a Sunday. Every new couple should have a penguin. We’ll eat shrimp vol-au-vents and drink Chardonnay together and watch a flatscreen television and Freddie will hug me while you’re out at work.” They sealed the deal with some funky sex followed by dinner at Luigi and Maria’s house where they broke the good news.

It wasn’t just me, I kept reading excerpts out to my wife until she told me to go away. So I stayed up late to finish Magenta Opium otherwise I wouldn’t have slept thinking about the story. Although I’m sure the author saw the point of all this the last comment belongs to the prose:
The rambling woman was still confusing [her] though.
Rating? One Star
Would add this to my bookshelf? Erm, no...
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Review - Other Stories... by Gerard Brennan

A collection of five short stories, some previously published in magazines, anthologies and websites.

Like the previously reviewed Possession… these are very well written story nuggets, all quite different, but all based in Belfast.

In Bouncer a hard man ‘door manager’ tries to relate to his gay son. It’s an unusual mix of angst, violence (as the bouncer struggles to reconcile his feelings whilst on the job) and touching humility. It’s well done.

Hard Rock is entirely different. It’s a grimy story of excess, manslaughter and attempted necrophilia. The protagonist, a rock star called Joey, has a girl in his hotel room after a gig but it all goes horribly wrong. The following quote is an example of the writing:

I stood up and looked around the room. Cocaine on the table. Dead girl cuffed to the bed. Dead fat man laid out on the floor. Blood-covered rockstar, stinking of puke and clutching the murder weapon, swaying on his feet.
Nothing But Time is a very brief story about a tout in prison and realizing it’s going to be a long stretch. The writing made me very glad I’ve never been put inside.

Day-Tripping is perhaps the oddest of the collection. James goes round to his
estranged friend Mattie’s place. James has a decent job, Mattie is a dope head. James ends up in hospital after an accident. However the incident brings the pair back together and they become friends again – in the strangest of circumstances.

Swing is again about friends, although Conor and Stevie are both at school. Conor used to be the cool kid, until his parents swinging activities becomes public knowledge and his stock plummets. Stevie is there to defend him until Conor goes one shocking step too far.

These stories are very well written, tight and neat that leaves the reader with sometimes shock, often surprise and sometimes questions. The characters are excellently drawn in a very small number of words. The dialogue is neat too. It doesn’t take long to plough through this collection, however I suspect it’s something I’ll go back to a couple of times…
Rating? Five Stars
Would add this to my bookshelf? Oh yes!
Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog.