For the past fourteen months or so, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. As previously mentioned, I often read my stuff, and I’m still doing that but I’ve also bought a few bundles (one bundle of science fictions and fantasy titles, one bundle of mystery stuff, and one mix that’s hard to describe) and I’ve availed myself to a number of books available through Amazon Prime.
Sometime in the middle of last year, I gave up on the science fiction and fantasy books. Many of the ones I started I didn’t even finish and those I finished left me unimpressed. I will eventually write reviews of those as well. Around August of last year, I started reading mysteries (concentrating on detective stories).
The primary reason was to get a taste of what’s out there being published and to perhaps compare it to what I’ve written.
With this post, I begin a series of posts reviewing the books I’ve read, and I begin in reverse order with The Grave Man by David Archer. This book is available for free on Amazon:
That’s not linked to anything; it’s just a screen capture. Note the rating on this book, the number of reviews and the description of the author.
Here is a sample of the reviews:
On Goodreads, the book has over four thousand votes and is rated slightly lower but still favorably.
Here’s the thing . . . after reading it, I was slightly irritated. No, make that very irritated. So much so that I checked Fakespot to see if the ratings on Amazon were legit.
As far as Amazon ratings go, that’s pretty good. So, why was I irritated?
If you are a teen or an adult still longing for a return to your teen years (I’m speaking mostly to guys here) then you might like this book. I can’t speak for women, but I would venture a guess the same thing holds; if you are someone with little experience in the world and who holds to fantasy relationships (especially traditional hero and damsel-in-distress fantasies) you might like this book.
The premise has potential but it’s badly handled and we mostly get the author’s fantasy view of what relationships are, what people are like, how people react in real-life situations, and especially his ideas of what makes for a meaningful life. I’ve read a few comments lauding the action . . . they must be action-starved because there’s very little action in the book and what’s there is not very good or even suspenseful.
The characters are little more than idealized cardboard cutouts and it was difficult for me as a reader to establish any relationship with them. Frankly, they’re not relatable at all and their actions in the progression of the plot make them seem not all that smart. Actually, let me quantify that a bit . . . the characters are presented as nice people who don’t seem to have a clue about the consequences of what they are doing. As such, the plot advances more by contrived fortuitous breaks and less because the characters are on the ball and capable.
I should say something about the plot . . . holy crap on a cracker! That’s all.
There’s also an annoying bit of social commentary thread that weaves in the narrative and runs counter to everything I know about real life. As a reader, you can overlook it if —as I said — you have an adolescent’s view of what relationships are. I ignored it, but it often distracted and took me out of the plot/story because it seemed so out of place and unrealistic.
Were I to speculate, there’s a telling passage or two where the main character’s mother points out what would be normal concerns about the evolving interpersonal situations and that the character dismisses by essentially saying “don’t worry; I know what I’m doing!” It smacked me of a rebellious teen sticking it to the parent. But, I’m not a psychologist, so what do I know?
Which leaves the bad guys . . . they are at once presented as incredibly sophisticated and careful and at the same time leaving a trail of crumbs that lets our hero (such as he is) quickly work his way to the top echelon of a powerful and secretive criminal organization. Without going into spoilers, the reveals and plot twists are puerile and what’s presented is at best a rehash of countless cheesy conspiracy-driven drivel. I think even in the circles of conspiracy theorists this would be a stretch. Nonsensical and laughable come to mind.
I have no idea what all these positive reviews saw in this book but whatever it was, I missed it. Perhaps I’m way out on a limb on this as it appears the majority of readers loved the book. I could posit readers might have enjoyed the feel-good aspect of the story but for me, there wasn’t enough substance, cleverness, suspense, and action to leave me satisfied at the conclusion of the book.
Let me be clear about this: I like feel-good books, I like nice endings, I like action and demarcation between good and evil, nice people and bad, and I like a bit of romance in the mix. But, when I read something, I want to feel engaged and that can only happen is the characters have depth, the story has realism, and the plot is at least somewhat clever.
A quick word about the editing . . . not so good. One problem is that many things are repeated — sometimes, the same thing is told at the end of one chapter and then repeated at the beginning of the next chapter — but there’s something else that is annoying. In a number of places, things are repeated but with corrections. Literally, the author telling you he was lying earlier and that this new information is now the truth. Not telling the other characters, but rather, telling the readers (this book is told in the third person somewhat omniscient because it jumps point of view from the main character to his main squeeze, and does so without any break or indication that he’s switched POVs). For instance, the narrative early on tells the reader that the has a cleaning lady coming in once a week. Later, the narrative changes to where it’s not really a cleaning lady but his mother and she doesn’t clean; he’s the one who actually cleans. It’s like if the author decided to go a different direction but couldn’t be bothered to go back and change the earlier passages.
If you are a young adult just starting in your reading adventure, you might like this. If you hold the social commentary in high esteem, this will likely stroke your unrealistic and flawed beliefs. If you are an adult who has been reading for a while and interested in realistic character interaction, you’ll likely to find this lacking.
. . . then again, all them positive reviews can’t be wrong, can they?
As a writer (and wannabe author) this book poses a few problems for me.
This is a short book and a good portion of the end of the book is used to set up the next book in the series. It appears to me he knocked this out in less than a few weeks. I say that both because of the quality and because his bibliography lists eleven published works for the year 2015 with this book being the first. All of them are short and all of them carry a high rating (this book is the most popular, but maybe that’s because it’s offered for free).
It’s a problem because everything I read and hear speaks to writers needing to master the craft of writing to be published and achieve a measure of success. To hear publishers, agents, and people who teach seminars, you need to understand plot, character, voice, pacing, and a bunch of other things to craft a work of fiction if you want to be successful.
None of that is in evidence here.
It’s a problem because I’m not willing to trade quality for success. I would not be happy having my name on something like this, no matter how successful it would be. That’s because I don’t have a soul, so I can’t sell it.
It’s a problem because if this is what readers want, I won’t be able to give it to them. I might as well give up any dreams of even self-publishing because I’ll never have any more readers of my fiction than I do now (six).
It’s a problem because it takes the wind out of my desire to finish editing my own mystery story (my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel).
Wait, you say, one book is all it takes to mess you up?
No. The next book review blog post will give another example that is somewhat on par with this book.
To be sure, there are a few books I’ve read that I consider excellent (future reviews), but go back up and read the stats for this author: 250,000 books sold.
If this is what readers want, I’m in trouble. I’d have to literally not give a good crap about what I put out and just write platitudes, throw in some sappy and unrealistic relationships, have exactly two gun battles that take up less than four paragraphs, add a bunch of stuff that strokes the adolescent male ego while giving hope to women who are super-smart (they graduated from MIT), amazingly pretty, and are somehow down in their luck (they lost their job at the Dairy Queen, you see) that a guy will come and rescue them and their cute-as-a-button young daughter by offering them a fulfilling life as cooks and cleaning ladies.
Here, I need to add my usual disclaimer: I’m not complaining, cursing my wretched fate, asking for advice, wanting sympathy, or — as some are sure to assume — burning with jealousy and envy. The author has struck a chord with some readers and more power to him; I wish him continued luck and success. This is primarily a book review and the subsequent commentary is just me letting loose. The world is what it is, and if Trump can be President, nothing should really surprise or dismay me . . . and it doesn’t. Also, if someone feels I’ve been too harsh, rest assured he’s (the author and/or Trump; take your pick) laughing all the way to the bank and this little review is but spittle in the wind that few will pay attention to.
Anyway, I need to calm down. Also, I need to find something smart and ambitious to read so as to revive all the brain cells that voluntarily shut down in protest of me reading this book. I suppose I could read more of my stuff, but I fear the shock might be too great . . . I should perhaps start with reading something like widget catalog.
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