Reviews. Familiar Friends and Fresh Faces

Reviews are so important to writers, but since becoming one, I’ve discovered just how vital they are. Having read maybe thousands of books over my life, I’ll admit that I rarely posted reviews either. Again, now that I’m a writer, that lapse will change.

In an effort to up my reading quotient which I’ve found to be a lifesaving pastime, I’ve decided to read more, but not singularly from the well of familiar friends—my go-to authors—but from fresh faces–authors whom I’ve never read. The selection process is organic, incited by something I see that interests my mood, landing in my over-flowing email from marketing sources.

I’m looking forward to this new adventure and it will take time to build a list, but here we go….

Familiar Friend – John Grisham – Camino Island

As an author myself, I was intrigued by the premise of a big Princeton library-based heist, somehow involving a young novelist and a bookstore owner. Bada-bing, Bada-boom. Let’s go.

But now that I’m done, I must say I had a few issues. I was a bit angry when I finished the book, and a little frustrated now that I can’t rant about the problems that irritated me at the end without doing spoilers. How do I say this in code? I threw a bunch of questions at the air, asking things like what about this, or what about that, why didn’t they do this and why that? Argh. You’ll need to read it for yourself.

I’d read almost all of Grisham’s books over the years but had taken a break. That said, I consider his story-telling abilities some of the best I’ve read. And A Painted House, (among others, I suppose, now that I think about it), is an all-time favorite read.

Overall, the story was well told, but I did get a bit bored with the main character, Mercer. Her sadness over her life and issues was somewhat annoying, too. She wasn’t a high energy kind of gal, didn’t really have any friends, wasn’t close with her family. But the plot was great, and I went along for the ride.

As a superfan of Grisham, I’ve got a shelf load of expensive hardbacks and the credit card receipts to prove it. I dove into Camino Island expecting to be fully entertained, but also stumbled somewhat early on, when the MC (main character) recaps her own writing, book tour, and publication failures with a. . . Yes, dammit, I made it to the Olympics but I-didn’t-win-the-gold stomping of the foot. MC/Mercer found an agent and publisher in her early 20’s, was published, (but sigh, only 8,000 hardback copies in the first printing, double that in paperback. . . it was deemed “respectable”), became a small phenom, was nominated for more than one major literary prize, and was a critical success. “The Times chose it as one of the ten best books of the year.” But those accolades were poo-poohed, trumped by the unattended book signings which left a mark on her abilities and ego. . . more on that later.

By some standards, those first efforts might be considered a valuable contribution, a writing, if not a publishing, success. But not by the MC. . . or was this Grisham’s view? It puzzled me by whose yardstick we were working from, but not overly concerned, I read on.

The tiny island of Camino was apparently a mecca for successful authors. The place was crawling with them, and they liked nothing better than to bitch about other authors, and wait for it. . . especially the smelly, and generally unworthy, self-published kind.

“They crank ‘em out, post ‘em online, call themselves writers.”

Disparagements go further, calling them pains in the ass, and, as a self-published author, I was again brought up short. Were these the MCs opinions, or Grishams?

Also, maybe I’ve run in the wrong circles, but I’ve never personally experienced authors being anything other than supportive with one another. In the book though, they trash talk about one another’s “really awful crap” behind their backs. Maybe, because the characters have all won the lottery and been discovered by agents and landed publication deals, they get to bitch about others who are “in the club” too.

“With the internet everybody is a now a published author…”

The self-published books go on a table at the back of the store referred to as the “slush pile”.

After a pattern for super-harsh trashing of self-published authors was established, I began to wonder if Mr. Grisham recalled when he was peddling his first book, A Time to Kill, reportedly rejected 28 times. Let’s harken back to how the world looked for him in 1988. Home computers were just becoming a thing, the long-tone dial up to AOL began in 1985, and Amazon didn’t exist until 1994. Had he the option of a self-publication experience back then, would he have taken it?

Lastly, I would mention to Mr. Grisham that self-published or not, writers are almost all, great lovers of books. They are your audience, too, and hold dear a special tale like no other.

I just had to say all this, in case it was Grisham, rather than the MC, who was looking down the nose forgetting he came from the same pen-in-hand, ass-in-chair position as his fellow writers who are only trying to find their own way, on their own path, toward creative fulfillment and publication.

Will I read Grisham again? Of course I will. But I’m not as happy with him as I was before. Now that I write and read, the world looks different, and I don’t like my self-publication choices being ridiculed by the king. Even if it is fictionalized.

Maybe Grisham’s next storyline can be about registered nurses bitching about LSNs being unworthy creatures. Or about the cliched snobbery of the Ivy-leaguers feeling superior to all other college goers. “They’re so cute for trying.”

Hmm, maybe I’m taking this too personally, but then, my life is rather personal to me. This review is obviously from my own personal perspective, but I’ll stop now.

Rant over. The end. I wish Grisham well.

Fresh Face – Guy Gavriel Kay – Under Heaven

A required read from my book club, I was initially concerned about the length of the book—592 pages in print—but I shouldn’t have worried. It wasn’t a burden to get through it, it was mostly a delight. I couldn’t wait to finish to find out how it would end, and then hand it off to my husband who I knew would enjoy it too.

Criteria I use to judge a book worthy of my husband’s time would be a great, well-written tale with depth of character and world building. Terrific plot arcs, too. I check-marked all those boxes and knew he would be as swept away as I was. It was languid reading and written like a long, often beautiful, sometimes violet, magical fable.

And the thing is, if I were to grumble over something so well-researched and built, it might reflect an unappreciation of the wonderful work. I think both irritation and wonderment can be true at the same time. I found inconsistencies that bothered me. Questions about events that seem overly far-fetched—and I’m not even talking about magic. I didn’t understand the significance of one blond character in a brothel. I kept waiting for her to reappear or for the author to make his reason for giving her a point of view known. It did not happen. Was she someone who would come into book 2 and the author is supposing we will remember? The book was sometimes tedious and redundant going over and over the philosophy of thinking. While originally tickled and charmed, I began to get annoyed and really just wanted the book to end. Stick to the plot! About three quarters in, the author begins to voice the drama from a more omniscient point of view with constant portends beginning with . . . “Long years after. . .”, or “He would remember that day. . . .” But then he goes back to the character’s point of view and the action and the story continues. Since I could see that the book had a ways to go, I was irritated with the denouement-type lingo. And broad statements like if Tai hadn’t met Roshan on the road stuff. I couldn’t make that math work. Also, 250 horses? Um, anyone got 250 arrows handy during war? Horses are not bullet-proof, right? I could go on. I made notes. Often, those notes had exclamation points. Some of the loose ends were managed in the epilogue, some not.

Another—presumably strictly personal—bad part came when I began humming the theme from Mulan in my head about halfway through the read. “Let’s get down to business. . . “, the song was relentless like an earworm I couldn’t shake.I also flashed on my time with Memoirs of a Geisha and Shōgun with the samurais, and oddly, the little kids dressed as ninjas that Andy controlled in Parks and Recreation while in the character Johnny Karate.

Those weird bits aside, I’d never read anything by Guy Gavriel Kay and was interested that there was a Book 2 in this saga. River of Stars will probably be read. After all, nothing is better than a good story that doesn’t end.

Familiar Friend

Full disclosure, I’ve been a superfan of Lee Child for as long as I can remember and have read every single Reacher book he has written. And, I will continue to purchase and read about that character until Mr. Child stops writing about him. These books are good versus evil, and I don’t believe I spoil anything when I say good always wins. It’s the reason I go back to this somewhat formulaic and enjoyable experience. I adore Jack Reacher. Except for the casting of Tom Cruise. Whyyyyy, Hollywood. Reacher is 6’5” and 250, and. . . never mind.

I’d taken a break from reading because of my hectic schedule and because I was fully immersed, writing my own novels. Other writers and I often joke that writing and editing can ruin your reading enjoyment. You look at books through a different lens and are constantly critiquing the words, style, plot, character development, etc. That said, reading has been one of the most enjoyable and life-saving pastimes in my life, and I am determined to recapture that part of my joy. Picking up a Reacher book, I thought, would surely bring the love back.

But. . . the plot problems with this one rankled me. Going in, I knew there would be leaps of faith required because Jack Reacher is an almost magical kind of guy with superhuman-like skills, and circumstances and fate always fall in line for him as he battles evil.

As a writer though, my eyes were popping wide, re-reading sections, not understanding why Lee Child gets away with so many plot issues. Like I said, it had been quite a while since I picked up a Reacher book, but did the other Reacher books have so many of them?

Potential spoilers here. . . where the hell are all the street cameras? The police will look at all kinds of videos later, and maybe Reacher won’t be found (because he is always in the wind at the end), but the other conveniently-placed, unquestioning, and capable superheroes who live in the town who Reacher happened to meet, live there. Consequences? Hey, you need a character who can speak five languages? No problem – he’s down the street and can come right over. He’ll put his life on the line too and won’t ask many annoying questions.

What about the noise from the gunfire? Sometimes this is addressed, sometimes conveniently not. What about neighbors? Sometimes they look out their windows fast when the plot calls for it, sometimes they’re non-existent like when a couple of characters need to drag dead bodies out to a car parked on the street in the middle of the day and put them in the trunk. Where are all the pedestrians in this busy town with high-rise buildings while the bodies are flying through the air? It’s like the wild west, and the action scenes take place in broad daylight while humans are either asleep or in the saloon. (Reacher also never changed clothes in this one – but that’s a trivial bit.)

The most rankling, upsetting part was at the very end. There were two characters – two bad guys – and while one is beautifully, wonderfully, fulfillingly (don’t care this is not a word) dealt with, the character other completely drops out. He’s just gone. No mention of him standing in the room, no mention of what happens to him. It’s a loose end, I screamed at the page. No! Did I get it right? I went back and searched three times. Yup. Lee Child just dropped him like he never existed.

All I’m saying is that other authors wouldn’t get away with what Lee Child can. It’s a paradox. The writer has built a fan base that is willing to look the other way. And Mr. Child has earned it. But damn, the end was really upsetting. Lee Child is a superb writer; it didn’t need to happen.

Fresh Face

I just finished binge-watching. . . I mean binge-reading this book. But the binge-watch thing was kind of how I felt. I just couldn’t stop. Honestly though, I was getting a bit jumpy with the pace through the first half as I suffered through all the toying Ms. Chance was doing to me. She cast her line s-l-o-w-l-y and patiently, giving glimpses of things to come, each scene ending with tidbits of “If only I’d known. . .” stuff.  It was maddening, in a kind of a good way, but I may have eaten too many Tootsie Rolls while the tension built. Damn you, Megan!

And then, quite suddenly. . . Boom. We were there. Megan delivered. Yup. The hook for the book, “. . . a young woman’s rise and revenge set against the backdrop of the devasting 1906 San Francisco earthquake,” was the line that sucked me in to read it. And I’m very glad I took the bait and did.

A Splendid Ruin is wonderfully written, deeply drawn, and will whisk you into another world of old San Francisco glamour, but also one of wretched pain and horrible devastation.

And revenge. Let’s not forget that. It was handily served, and oh my, Ms. Chance, you did it beautifully.

Familiar Friend

I’ve read all of the books in the All Souls Trilogy. It’s a wonderful series, and before diving into this new book, I’m glad that I’d read them.

In my opinion, Time’s Convert is not a standalone. It had been a while since I’d read the other enjoyable books in the series. During those journeys, I recall feeling almost overwhelmed with the details. . . sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. Entire paragraphs deserved their own place on the history shelves, the prose was wonderful, the characters well-drawn, the plots tight. Sometimes I felt the books extremely intellectual, but I had bravely plowed forward reading hoping that some of the knowledge might stick in my wee brain.

My highly anticipated journey with Time’s Convert ended with mixed feelings. The good news first. This book earns five stars for its intense research. I’m positive Ms. Harkness did her homework and worked her ass off getting the details of the timing, settings, events, and real-life historical characters correct. I felt in safe hands and not misguided into a complete fantasy world. Vampire, witches, and daemons aside, of course. Characters like Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, and Lafayette, for example, all have dialogue, but fictitious though that may be, I felt good that the author wasn’t leading me too far astray and plucking stuff out of the air solely for entertainment. (Unlike The Crown on Netflix which I really truly thought was not wholly fiction. Is it? Angry here and digressing).

To the tougher part of my review, even though I’m American, the sections on the Revolutionary War did not interest me. During these scenes, primarily the middle section of the book, the plot felt tossed aside and the read lagged. There were so many characters, names, towns, homes, events dropped, I needed a chart. Some of those characters had their own arcs and I found I just did not care.

It was during this middle section where I found myself wondering what the book was even about. Where was Ms. Harkness going? It felt like a bunch of separate stories that bumped into one another for no purpose. Eventually I realized that the book was about the tale of Phoebe and Marcus and their vampire becomings. Phoebe’s transition was in real time, and Marcus, because he is an old vampire, is told in flashback. Interspersed between Phoebe’s grand awakening and difficulties, and Marcus’s really long backstory (how many towns did we follow him through during this book? How many years? Too many to count), there were the De Clermonts – the main family of vampires as well as the main witch character – Diana. But those wonderful characters were way secondary. They had plots and problems too, but they were side stories and led nowhere. And the thing was, I love those characters. Every single time Ysabeau enters a room I get excited. Diana’s magic is beyond cool. Baldwin is way interesting. I want to sail with Gallowglass, or at least drink with him. Had I not read the other books, I would have been totally lost on who all these people were and their relevance. I imagine Ms. Harkness had to decide about whom to write for, and she chose.

I have tremendous respect for this author and what she’s accomplished and will most likely read the next installment. Or anything else she writes, for that matter.

Fresh Face

I’ve never read a novel by Joel Canfield, nor any of his Max Bowman series, but was intrigued by the synopsis. A CIA spy drugged and locked away in a weird community only to escape and find Trump as president and his previous, notorious life in shambles.

When I opened the book and began to read, Mr. Canfield had me at the dedication. Among other shout-outs, he thanks his friend Bruce in spite of the fact that Bruce refuses to leave an Amazon review for Red Earth because Joel made him leave a ball game early. Love it!

White Rain was a fast read. Gripping. Entertaining. Easy-to-read. Surprising. Carl Hiaasen-like complex and oddball characters abound. The plot is tight. There are twists. What more could you ask for? Oh, I know, it made me laugh out loud. I love it when I’m so engrossed in a book, the writer’s wit so clever, that he elicits such a hearty response. And I was smiling a lot too. Lots of smiles, not just barking laughter.

Thank you for the clever romp! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

FAMILIAR FRIEND

I’m a long-time fan and reader of Koontz books, but try to be selective about which ones I’ll read due to his ability to scare the crap out of me. I can count on a Koontz book to have heros I’ll love and villains I’ll hate, and there is usually supernatural or magical elements too which mean I can lose myself freely, taking a comfortable leap over logic and what I know is true.

Dogs, specifically Golden Retrievers, are often heros in a Koontz book too, and as a lover of this breed, I easily give my heart to any of his books featuring one of these golden beasts. And so, I chose Devoted.

Knowing I’d come across evil in his antagonist, I was still unprepared for the terror I felt during the read. Anxious and invested, however, I took breaks so I could make it through to the last to see how it would end, hoping for a good outcome. No spoilers here, but I will say there was one particular scene where evil meets the good guy that will haunt me. I’m dreaming about it. I want it out of my head. But… will I go back for more? Probably.

Koontz is a wonderful writer, no one is doubting that. He can suck you in and bring you on a ride, and whether you want to get off or not, you may not have a choice. That said, I sometimes found myself skimming some of the deeper passages, some redundancy where I felt the point had already been beautifully expressed and I didn’t need more of the same. I find myself nervous from the hubris of criticizing such a gifted author, but I’m just spitting out my truth. I’m giving it four out of five stars because of this.

FRESH FACE

I saw this fun jewel pop-up on sale at BookDoggy and after just having finished my latest Dean Koontz book, was definitely in the mood for something light and fun. I’ve read many cozies, but, I’d never read one with the paranormal element. I thought it was time to go for that ride.

Lynn Morrison writes well, the story moves along, the characters developed. The setting in Oxford was delightful to read and felt well-researched. Learning about the colleges was enjoyable. One of the primary characters – H – had a super fun accent. Every time this cat/wyvern spoke I smiled a bit, breaking down the dialect. I could hear it and felt amused.

I blew through the book during one rainy day – the perfect companion for my mood. I’d chosen this book from the thousands thrown my way because I related to a blog Lynn wrote about the writing. From Lynn:

“Writing this book saved my sanity. That is no exaggeration. I sat at home, day after day, writing my little heart out. I got an editor. I took my editorial beatings. I deleted, rewrote and rewrote again. I worked my butt off, and somewhere in those hours I rediscovered my creativity and value.”

As an author, I appreciated those words. Good book. The way it ended was bit surprising. I could recommend for all ages.