Anonymous Book Review 21

This book sneaked up on me like a cheetah in the tall grass of low expectations, attacking from my blind side as I drank from the stagnant waters of structural homogeneity. As an entertainment piece this book was not my cup of tea—character driven romance—though I found in it qualities that amazed me. I’ve heard talk of the author coming from cheetah 1nowhere, that he wasn’t on anyone’s radar, then surprised the sci-fi/fantasy community with good writing and fresh perspectives. I now understand their point.

This book didn’t follow the rules, yet it was written in a clear manner with restraint and nuance. And in many senses that’s what I liked best about it.

The story was set in a fantasy world bayou with science and magic all around. But it wasn’t trapped in a steamy jungle. The world was broad and far reaching. The bayou was a place, not a character. There was no romantic thread to the fetid swamp that made anyone contemplate life or seek inner truths. It was just a place. To us writers, grounding.

Totally character driven without too much of a plot to speak of, not until the final few pages did the theme of the book resonate. It stayed with the main character, never deviating from his perspective, yet stayed just far enough away to pick up on other characters’ feelings, almost omnisciently. Almost. There was the nuance.

I wanted so much more of the world. Soldiers and royal courts, mystical places and madness educing prophetess’s. The guy walked around with a pet cheetah that he could talk to! But none of that really played into the story other than setting up obstacles for the main characters’ love. Which is as it should have been, but still…. I guess it’s better to leave the audience wanting more instead of less.

The dialog sounded perfectly fantasy, however, a few places one character slipped into a dialect from the American deep south. A few word choices helped generate an idea of a person that exists in modern day. These were the only instances where the author allowed outside knowledge to draft a character’s image. I can speculate on why this happened, pieces missed in editing, reaching for a desired effect, maybe the dialect is native to the author and otherwise invisible, but it was the inconsistency that bumped me out of the story. I really like the idea of having zero ties to modern culture to draw on, but I could’ve gotten behind the character with identifiable traits, too. Just keep it consistent.

In the end this book broached a delicate topic; given the chance, would you live the life you’ve led, or would you follow your heart’s long-ago denied desire? I think this speaks to us all at some level. Personally, I didn’t care for the character’s choice, but that’s me, not the author, not the book.

Here is where my appreciation for this book comes out.

Exclamation points by the shovel full. Semicolons everywhere. Non-linear story telling. Semicolons, comas, exclamation points, periods and parenthesis all in the same sentence!

Yes, it was odd to see, a little distracting at first, but it helped generate and maintain the narrative voice. There were points of subtle emotional excitement that deserved an exclamation point. There were cascading revelations that earned consecutive exclamation points. I was good with these abuses, though reading in the proper voice cartoon7255took effort toward the end, largely due to the exclamation point’s inherent shortcomings, but also followed the logic of the literary sages concerning their overuse. They lose effect quickly. It’s tough to maintain exclamatory vigilance throughout the course of a book. But the weird punctuation fit the voice.

So this author gets it. He knows how to write on an intuitive level. Like the bastard in my calculus class who had conversations with the teacher instead of madly scribbling reams of notes. At first I was distracted, put off, even, by the punctuation. But the more I read, the more I understood just how good of a writer this author is. It happened slowly as I realized that I knew about the world, the hierarchies, the alliances and the magic system without reading info dumps or exposition. I can look back and see a few places where details were given, but none of it stood out while I was in the story. Everything I needed to know was sifted in where needed and only in amounts required to move the story. I’ve heard people say this millions of times, had an idea of how to approach it, but reading the talent on display gave me a deeper appreciation of the author’s ability.

Tangent: Have you ever sat in a writers group where everyone takes turns blasting the hell out of your writing style? And not in the constructive type of, “Maybe it could be clearer if…” but that, “Go back to fourth grade and learn how to write a sentence, you illiterate dork,” kind of critique? Not a fun place to be, especially when you’ve purposely written that way for effect and you suspect most of the hostility to be coming from places other than a deep abiding concern for a fellow writer. Or worse. A deep biding concern that you don’t write like them.

This book vindicated certain aspects of my style against a lot of mediocre critique. Not comparing me against this writer and not saying all the critique was useless, it wasn’t, but to see a similar style in print reinforced that feeling of trusting myself, even against a chorus of nay.

And I don’t buy the critique perspective of “The Reader.” It’s always only the individual’s opinion. Not a singular predicted experience of all literate people in the entire English reading universe. Speak for yourself, not a hypothetical entity concocted to justify a sense of superiority.

Sorry. Wrong tangent.

Anyhow, I thought the author used his style effectively, putting feelings above grammatical structure. Let the academics have their structure. This is fiction. Fiction transcends structural limitations to deliver satisfaction at levels deeper than a GPA.

Pull it together, man. Get off the tangents.

Okay, okay. Sorry. Back to the review.

I took a writerly lesson from this book. It’s an aspect that led to enjoyment, yet one I couldn’t identify, not until I had inadvertently read an article, a Facebook post really, about specificity. Ha! I can spell it better than I can say it. I related the article to this book as I read and paid attention to the author’s craft of similes. He dialed the similes down from something broad and relatable to narrow and specific. The recognition was reassuring, like the first cool breeze of fall, when the summer-long sweat evaporates and you skin tingles with a subtle chill hinting at a sound night’s sleep through the cricket chirps and jasmine blooms for the first night all season.

This book won’t make it to my read-again pile, but I will definitely read more from this author. I’m sure I’ll be hearing his name for decades to come. He can only get better (with constant editing. See previous post of angry man rant concerning geniuses and editing). The author broke the rules in a way that worked because he perfectly understood the purpose behind the so called rules. He was able to disregard the rules of punctuation and sentence structure because he kept the narrative voice and story clear. I think this is a lesson all of us writers should appreciate; that rules only exist until you understand their purpose.

Exit question: Have you ever loved the writing better than the story itself? Share with us your insights so we all can learn.

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Anonymous Book Review 20

What a rough book. I wanted to love this book, I truly did. With a few stylistic changes this would have been my favorite book ever. I’ve also never been angrier at a book. Throwing it at the front door was cathartic. Seeing it the next morning on the floor, cover open, pages splayed and curled, gave me a moment of wicked joy. But it wasn’t the book’s fault for existing. It shouldn’t have had to spend the night tortured in a stress position. Now I feel bad, as if I’d kicked a dog. Stupid book empathy.

This book took me seven months to read.

I hated it about one tenth the way through. I should’ve closed it and set it on top of the only other book I’ve abandoned. Believe me, I thought about quitting hundreds of times, but the author’s a genius.

But nothing. Even geniuses need editors.angry reader

And editors need the courage to tell geniuses to dial it back and write coherent sentences.

At some points this book felt like a slap in the face. A fantastic work you can’t help but admire, yet wishy-washy and pointless in the elements of storytelling. It seemed a celebrity excess to prove the power of celebrity, to show audiences and critics that he could write whatever he wanted. I can appreciate a nihilistic display of force from time to time—take that powers that be—but not when it entangles me and my twenty dollars.

I should’ve listened to my book club friend.

Whoa, that’s a lot of hate. What the hell kept me going?

The concepts…. I’ve been waiting to read the author….

The concepts were amazing. One after another; amusing, intriguing, imaginative. The MacGuffin of this magical mystery was my personal spirit animal, so I leaned toward this book from the title. The author’s powers of description put you there. Right there. In the museum, in the embassy, on the street.

The author writes in a genius-level strata that I never see myself ascending. That said, he needed to tone it down. His descriptions were so long and detailed I got bored. His sentence structure so complicated, I got lost. It’s as if he invented commas. Combine excessive description and complicated sentences and you get pages and pages of annoyed disinterest.

Main character? What main character? Oh, the dope who just followed along, yet accidentally picked the right group. That guy didn’t move the story until the very end and even then it was only in the slightest ways. If anyone was a little smarter, like the magic detectives whose job it was to solve cases like that, than the main character wouldn’t have been needed at all.

The other characters were colorful, vibrant beings. One in particular I wanted the entire book to follow. And thought it would because of POV peculiarities. An amazing character that needed so much more page time. Seriously, this one is among my favorite characters ever. Sadly though, the story didn’t follow her.

The tone of this book was supposed to be humorous, in the vein of Good Omens or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and just as British. I figured the main character would be a sympathetic simpleton of a foil to contrast the magical world against the identifiable regular world us mortals are familiar with. And all for a chuckle. Not really. The main character remained unamusingly simple and then the humor dried up.

The plot was awesome, though, right?

Yeeesh…

An all consuming apocalypse to thwart, I guess, but the nebulous plot it never really registered with me. All the foreboding cataclysms were bland. So, existence is about to cease without the comfort of a new beginning, as is the case with typical apocalypses (apocalypsi?). Hey, that’s intriguing. A concept with serious stakes I could care about. The signs were there to the characters, but not to me. To me everything seemed normal. Nothing interesting in the way of end-of-world events. Why? Why tease me? Why make something great into something boring? Maybe that was supposed to be the joke. The drunken brawl in front a pub was actually a sign. If so the joke didn’t land.

One issue killed so much of this book for me. New sections would open with finite background details, thoughts and reactions of characters would build the mood, then everything would switch to a POV character for the rest of the chapter. What the hell? That’s not cool. I know the voice of narration had to set up the jokes, explain why things were normal in this magical world so the main character could react to absurdities for the laugh, but for me it didn’t add anything. It actually subtracted.

The narration became so casual that at a couple points it seemed to break the fourth wall. The narration spoke directly to you (me), the reader. It tip-toed into second person. But only in a couple places out of five hundred pages. Given the rest of the story’s style these breaches stood out and bugged me. It wasn’t consistent like Hitchhikers Guide. He’s a freakin’ genius. If I do that any editor, agent, or publisher will throw me out the door. They’ll confiscate my pencils and fire me from writing for life.

The conclusion is winding up. The pace is moving, the main character is finally doing something. Everything is coming together, things are magical and cool and now I’m moderately invested. The second bad guy and the one I was led to believe was the antagonist (the first one didn’t count) is at the threshold of winning. This should be fantastic. How is the hero going to get out of this and save the day?

Through the power of realization. The bad guy had to use mythical henchmen and a lovelorn mage, then steal and resurrect a pickled god. The good guy just remembered his occupation and somehow, across a paragraph of self awareness, rewrote, edited, and saved the world. But then, through a line of logic and assumption I couldn’t follow, he alone knew where the real bad guy was and gets there just in time to… distract the villain. Then miraculously this other thing happens, of which he had no control, to really save the day. And there they go, happily ever after.

Yes, the clues were there. I picked up half way through that this good guy would be the real bad guy, which happened, but he wasn’t connected to the other two. They were coincidental red herrings. I like following an investigation where ever it leads, but it didn’t work for me in this book because the plot was ill-defined. One third devoted to a bad guy, the rest devoted to another bad guy, the end is actually a third bad guy motivated by cliché resentments against religion that had nothing to do with anything else.

Now the part that felt like a slap in the face. It’s always been a pet peeve of mine when authors used technical writing terms as description. Writers are supposed to be invisible in their works and so, too, should the writing techniques. A really cool character was punched in the face gifdescribed as ex dues machina. I was thinking it and then I was told it. Hmm. Okay, moving on. There was a very heavy emphasis on Star Trek, you know, because this was the author’s foray into sci-fi/fantasy, which I’m not entirely against, but it was used to fill in science fictiony details instead of explaining. The references justified a significant portion of the book. Kind of fun, okay, quirky, all right, but for me and a few other committed sci-fi fans, meh. Then, at the end, in the summation of events, the narrator described the entire plot as an ambiguous apocalypse. He called his own story ambiguous! He said, in a single word, what my problem was the entire time. As if the author had awesome characters and ideas, then improvised a reason for them to exist. Then, at some point during an editing pass he recognizes the shortcoming and slips the word ‘ambiguous’ in at the end to let his readers know that he knows the plot’s vague so it’s not a naïve accident which means he’s still a genius writer.

In my current working opinion the author’s name helped this book a lot. The sketchy perspective coupled with florid description and overly complicated sentences, many, many of which made absolutely no sense to me, even with a dozen rereads just to be sure, dropped me out of the book. I never connected to the main character. I never connected with the narrator, either. I couldn’t handle more than two pages a night and even when I set out to make good progress, I’d fall asleep. Yes, I read through it, yes I figured things out, but it was an effort I’m reluctant to duplicate for this author.

The book could’ve been amazing. It was something I really wanted to enjoy. With proper editing it might’ve won all the awards.

I’ll say it again, even geniuses need editing.

At minimum I’ll use it as an example of how authors can get in their own way.

Oh yeah. The one line of dialog at the very end that earned this innocent book a bashing against the front door, my favorite character says to the boring main character, “Something tells me I’ll see you at the next apocalypse.”

No, you won’t.

Anonymous Book Review 10

What’s in a name? That which we call a character by any other name would read as clear.

Well… no.

Good writers and savvy readers can suss identities by idiosyncrasies, but even those belong to a specific character that had to have been clearly defined early on. So, despite Juliette’s lament, names are important.

I really liked this latest book. Having purposely skipped the back cover description, it was another of those pleasant surprises. Written with a friendly, inviting tone (almost the subject of this post), I fell right into the story. The protagonist was entirely sympathetic, but the villains and ancillary characters were brilliant, fun and mean. The scenery was done just right. Enough to picture, but not bogged down. And the magic system was well defined and unique.

But about three quarters the way through I started having problems keeping track of the characters which brought out some very interesting considerations as far as writing craft goes. My dilemma started when unidentified character names in this timeConfusion Pic traveling, body swapping book started popping up. I thought it had largely to do with writing style, but it went deeper than that, down to the bones of the point-of-view.

This is where my interest waned. Not that I didn’t want to finish the novel, but for long portions I read passively with overriding questions shadowing the story. Who is this? Why is he/she important? Are they going to affect the conclusion? I really didn’t want a new character to have any hand in the story’s resolution. In the end I was treated fairly, but the questions distracted me from what should have been the best part of the book.

So how did this happen? Why was it so good early on, then distracting later?

Suspicions mounted.

Written in a third person omniscient subjective perspective, the author let the POV wander between characters pretty freely. While he did a great job keeping the reader aware of who was perceiving what for about the first three quarters, the narrative style itself, when done less than perfect, built in some confusion. Classic head-hopping. But that can’t be all of it because the perspective worked well early on.

Length constraints, perhaps. There were a lot of words, good words, early on that made the story great, but the ending required even more world building to keep the fictional time scale in line with real historical events. Yet the entire book was pushing word count conventions. It was getting really long and might have been rushed. New locations were introduced and with them a new cast of characters plus their obligatory backgrounds. While a contributor, still not the distinct cause of confusion.

Style. I think it had to do with writing style. The protagonist had already taken on a different body and accepted a life and name under the new persona. The narration even changed calling the character by the new name with few reminders of his original identity. Okay, the transition happened clearly enough, I stayed with it. But when large amounts of time passed in the course of a scene change (still acceptable), the later scenes would start from a newly name character’s POV and carry on for a couple pages until the author revealed the new character to be the old character who started the book as the protagonist.

I thought about this awhile, wondered about the reasons to write scenes like this. I suppose for suspense, but they weren’t suspenseful. I mean, how can there be suspense for a character that’s not simply unsympathetic, but one that’s completely unknown. Twists or cliffhangers at the end of scenes and chapters? Maybe, but it didn’t work for me. Afterward, I imagined the scenes without the secret endings, as if the author had stated the real identities first, and I’ve gotta say I think that clarity would’ve won over whatever drama was generated.

Back to Juliette’s lament. What’s in the name depends on the many, many words around it. Too many names becomes confusing, but that’s only if those names aren’t clearly differentiated. Is it a bee, a city, a planet, or a protagonist. Could it be a horse, a spell, a girlfriend, a zombie, a henchman, a programmer’s wang-dang-doodle…..

I’m not sure any one of these issues is the singular culprit, rather, taken together these individual weaknesses compounded into confusion and distraction. It was still a good book and overall I was well entertained. I just wished the ending matched the beginning.

You know… given the subject matter in this post, I should’ve stated the novel’s name straight off, but then it wouldn’t be anonymous. I can live with the hypocrisy. Have you read an otherwise brilliant story that had a peculiar problem? Share with a comment so that we all might learn.