When Good Books Make Bad Movies

When I heard Atlas Shrugged would soon be released, I was elated. I had just read the book.

I wondered why I had waited so long to read it, when it was practically a cult classic. I was hooked from the beginning and the only hard part to get through was John Galt’s infamous 60-page speech. I wanted to say, Geez, John, be a little more concise, will ya’? As my high school English teacher used to preach: Concise! Pithy! Epigrammatic!

The book does tend to be a bit repetitious in its message, just in case you didn’t get it the first time, Ms Rand drills it in over and over. Capitalism = Free Markets = Good. Only when you reward the entrepreneurs, when you allow them to be individuals and succeed in business in whichever way they choose, can society survive. Communism doesn’t work, although it wasn’t exactly Communism as such, but more of an unselfish society where no one must rise above the rest, when all things must be divided equally and all persons share in the wealth.

The novel is over 1000 pages long. There are a lot of subplots, a lot of expounding, a lot of character-building. But it’s all good. The slovenly brother of Dagny, the greedy, clueless family of Hank, the various hanger-ons and leeches. The successful, disappearing businessmen, the scientists influenced by inept politicians. The three brave world-changers.

It was a very engaging, very deep, very complicated novel. Perhaps Ms. Rand could have skinnied this down some, but she chose not to, and if she is a bit verbose, that particular shortcoming is not one which was troublesome to me.

How are they ever going to make a movie of it, wondered I? How will they capture all that nuance into a movie? Then I learned that the new movie was actually Atlas Shrugged, Part II. Ah. So better Netflix Part I because this rather anal reader and watcher of movies must see Part I before Part II. It would be blasphemy to do otherwise. 1 before 2. A before B.

(After rereading the above paragraph, I note that “Netflix” has now become a verb. When did that happen?)

Herr Schneider and I watched Part I. Herr had read Atlas Shrugged when most people did — back when we were young and self-perceived intellectuals. It had been many decades so he barely remembered it, just the message, but not any of the characters or the story.

Part I wasted no time. Bang! Got a lot of ground to cover! Even in multiple movie parts, we need to get going here. Lots of action packed into those scenes. If I hadn’t just read the novel, I wouldn’t have had the first clue about what was going on. I struggled to keep up. 

This is Hank and Dagny as they discover John Galt’s wonderful motor. Picture the scene. They are in an abandoned manufacturing plant. Windows broken, birds flying around. Debris laying all over the place. The place is huge, yet Dagny goes directly to the secret door wherein lies the motor.

Dagny: Looks like they just walked away.

Hank: Not much here.

Dagny: Too bad, I’d really like to figure out what happened here.

(Music swells)

Hank: Dagny. This is it! This is where they made the engine!

Dagny: You think it’s here?

Hank: I can’t believe all this stuff. Some of this is incredibly sophisticated.

Dagny: Unbelievable.

(Pause, as it dawns on Hank and Dagny, they both see it for the first time, and  they move reverently toward the workbench whereupon sits the aforementioned engine,  here in the old, abandoned factory strewn with litter and broken glass and bird poop.)

Dagny: Hank?

(Meaningful pause. Music swells a bit louder now)

Dagny: Atmospheric vacuum.

Hank: What?

Dagny: It’s known as the Casimir effect. It’s a small particle accelerator.

Hank: And this… must be a secondary cooling system, probably designed to eliminate excess heat generated during the process.

Dagny: Ex-ACT-ly. And this creates a magnetic field — in place long enough for the collapsing vacuum pressure to be captured.

Hank: The engine uses atmospheric vacuum to create static electricity! Now does it say anywhere on this document who designed this thing?

Dagny: I don’t see any names. We could get a list of the building employees?

Hank: We go to the Town Hall records, we find the last owner of the factory, we track it back from there. My God Dagny… this could change the world!

This scene was a whole chapter in the book, but took less than seven minutes in the movie.

After watching Atlas Shrugged, Part I, I am not sure I will bother with Part II. The movie seemed cartoonish to me, and events happened so fast my brain couldn’t keep up.

Sometimes, great books don’t make great movies. This was one clear example of that fact. How can a movie, even one in multiple parts, capture what it too 1000+ pages to explain?

It’s clear, it can’t.

Agree? No? Tell me.

The Baby Boomer Reviewer?

I’ll drink to that!

This post started out as a whiney, complainy, bogged down piece of crap-writing that I started weeks ago and then decided never to publish. And I keep whittling it down, taking out the Poor Me stuff until this is what remains.

I’ve been on this marketing project for several months now, and not getting anywhere with it. As a matter of fact, it’s downright discouraging. Many of the new writers I have come to know are having a lot more success than I am. I am beginning to suspect that there are a lot of folks out there who have no interest in what I write, which is fine. Not everyone likes the same thing.

However! It might be time to ask, “Hold up a minute here! What’s the problem?”

So far I can’t figure out what the problem is. Whether I am not reaching my target audience or whether my target audience really would rather read the Twilight series or Fifty Shades of Grey.  

Photo by saratogajean

Where did everyone go?

Recently, I did a free giveaway of the Kindle version of Perigee Moon and got less than 200 downloads and no reviews out of it, the reviews being the main point of the giveaway. So what good did the whole exercise do? I went to all the book free day sites and made the announcement. I don’t see any positive results in doing any of it, although maybe it will take time for reviews to come in. The more good reviews a book has, the better it does. 

On a more positive note, I believe I have learned a lot about the writing craft in the last decade or so. I know what I perceive is good writing. I know whose voice I love and whose I don’t. I can recognize good writing, believable characters, and excellent stories. So I am thinking very seriously of becoming an “official” book reviewer.

I wrote a post recently about trying to find sites to get my own book reviewed, about the criteria I used to determine if a site would be a good fit. I wrote about the overabundance of people willing to review books about vampires and monsters and other foul creatures, but there were very few, make that none, that I could be absolutely positive would be a site that would want to review books about baby boomers finding their way at last, determining who they want to be later on in life, finding love.

One thing I have always believed, and still do, is that our generation is one of readers. We didn’t have video games and computers and other electronics to distract us when we were growing up, we had television and books. And while many of us have embraced the technology that makes our lives more connected and more interesting, we still basically love to read. As we start to retire, we have more time to read, and what better subject to read about than our own generation?

What if I become the Baby Boomer Reviewer? Books by and/or about that generation? They wouldn’t all have to be in my exact genre, but if they are written by baby boomer authors who just want to get reviewed then I’d be willing to do it. Hell, you don’t even have to be a baby boomer. Just a new author trying to get a start. And, of course, these reviews will be given with no currency exchanging hands.

If I can help to spread the word, help a new author, then why not?

Here’s the catch. I’d have a very hard time telling an author that I didn’t like his work. I’d have to be really honest and that will be hard for me, but a review isn’t worth anything unless it’s genuine. And who’s to say, I might not like it but someone else might love it? I’ve sure noticed that all people don’t like the same thing myself.

I’d be reluctant to give 5 star reviews. I have given them in the past, but really, I think 5 star reviews are reserved for truly great pieces of literature. Prose where I marvel at the beautiful sentences, and the exquisite phrasing. You all probably know by now how I feel about Scott Spencer and Jonathan Franzen. These men have both written books I would consider 5 star quality. But for the rest of us, well, we can’t all be authors of that caliber. We just can’t. It isn’t possible.

I’ve written quite a few reviews lately. Few of them were 5 star, but some of them were really, really good books. I’m including a link here to my Amazon reviews.

I’d post each review on a new My Reviews page as I do them, with a link to Amazon (or wherever the author would like the review directed). Here are some of the genres of books I would review:

  • General Fiction
  • Historical Fiction
  • Literary Fiction
  • Baby Boomer Fiction
  • Memoir
  • Mystery/Thrillers
  • Short Story Collections
  • Non-fiction (as long as I have some knowledge of the topic)

No genre romance, no inspiration, no erotica. No urban fantasy, no vampires, werewolves or drudges. No steampunk — and if anyone can explain to me exactly what this is, would you please comment? None of these interest me and I wouldn’t be able to give a satisfactory review of that material.

I’d love to hear if there are any new authors who would be interested in having me review their work.

Marketing Woes and Roasting Turkeys

What a trying time it has been around here. I went back yet again (I must have read this post twenty times) to Peggy Strack’s blog post about new authors paying for reviews. Ms. Strack decided to do it, so I looked into the links she provided. Before I could decide whether I would approach anyone for a review, I visited their websites, clicked on links to authors, links to books, links to blogs, trying to decide if it could be a match. Often I ended up not knowing how I landed on a particular site, completely confused and at a dead end, realizing that I had accomplished very little, if anything.

And was I sure I really wanted to do it anyway? Here was my thought process:

After much consternation (a feeling of anxiety, fear, dread or confusion), I decided to go for it. But which reviewer should I pick? After comparing, I came to the following conclusion. Readers Favorite will do free reviews, and only if you wish to have it expedited (one to two weeks) will they charge $59 for it. I am still uncertain as to how I feel about paying for reviews, unless the reviewer has a reputation for writing them honestly, whether they have been purchased or not. A paid-for “guaranteed 5-star review” isn’t an honest review, not to me as the author who genuinely wants to know what those “in the business” might think of my work, or to readers. I want to pick reviewers who will give me a negative review if my book deserves it. Readers Favorite will post 3, 4 or 5-star reviews on their site, but less than that warrants an email with constructive criticism.

I got the expedited review, though, because I was very curious and hope doing that did not influence the reviewer. It received a 5 star review! You may not be surprised to hear this because you, oh wise readers, know that I wouldn’t be telling you I got the review at all if it hadn’t turned out well. You can read it here.

5 Star Reviews Kick Ass!

I think I may now go for a Publishers Weekly review. This won’t be as immediately gratifying because they select the books they will review and typically only 25% of submissions make the cut. The reviews they do are done quarterly and will be published next in December. They do charge for it but is that countered by the fact that they discard 75% of submissions anyway? The fee is refunded in those cases. So it might not even get a review, and if it does, the opinion could be: This book sucks, but not as much as the ones we didn’t even deign to review at all. In order to gauge whether my book might have a shot, I looked at some of the books they had reviewed in my (sort of) genre.

To indicate that they found a novel particularly good, they star (*) it (just star / no star). I wondered if mine could compete with a starred book so I downloaded one: Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World. I read it and it’s good, very good. What an interesting concept, interrelated short stories but the more I read, the more I thought of it as a novel. It was well-written, and interesting and I enjoyed it very much. The only complaint I had was the amount of semicolons used. I am a firm believer in using this particular punctuation sparingly, and I became obsessed with noticing how many there were.

Based on the quality of this book (i.e. excellent), I haven’t quite made the decision as to whether to submit or not but am leaning toward it.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

I had a dream, one of those frustration things this morning, early. In the dream, I was roasting a turkey, actually two turkeys and I was in an unfamiliar kitchen and the work areas were all cluttered and I couldn’t find anything, including my wine glass. There were others in the kitchen, three people I think, but none of them would help me. In the next room there sat a midget man at a high table, the Turkey Help Desk. He told me to crush potato chips and press them into the turkey skin using an oreo cookie. Okay. This is the kind of crap I dream. I’m pretty sure potato chips would not be the way to go with this. But I did like the oreo cookie part, interesting. Wonder where that came from?

In the dream I went from task to task, in a circle of uncertainty. I need to do Task 1. Before I do Task 1, I should really do Task 2. Then I move to Task 2, and find I need to do Task 3 before I do Task 2. It’s been like that lately with marketing. Going around and around in the interweb (thanks to my new Roadrunner connection I am back in the 21st century), dashing here and there, and forgetting from whence I came.

I don’t do marketing well. It intimidates me. I want to do the right thing, but don’t always know what that is. I can’t seem to focus on it. Woe is me.

That’s why I dream crazy stuff about roasting turkeys.

 

New feature! News You Should Not Notice!

Spotted! Mila Kunis Without Makeup!

Photo courtesy of some papparazzi – so sue me!

Are we serious here? This is a news story? WTF (that’s “who”) gives a farthing of a shit about this? First of all, who is Mila Kunis? I didn’t even know. OH! She’s the Sexiest Woman Alive 2012! Every year we have a new Sexiest Woman? What happened to the Sexiest Woman 2011? Did she (shudder) gain six ounces or something?

And another OH! Mila is the “rumored” girlfriend of Ashton Kucher. Sorry, Ashton, but Charlie Sheen, you are not. And a rocket scientist you are not. And a nice person you are not. I remember that dalliance with the bimbo in the hotel room. You remember that? When you were married to Demi Moore and that girl tweeted about what y’all were doing? She gives new meaning to “dumb blonde”.

This is not news. No one should care about this. But the problem is, we do. We don’t care about what’s happening to our country. No. We care about what Mila Kunis looks like without makeup.

And you know what? She doesn’t look that good.

3D Man Photo courtesy of freedigitalprints.net

Laughing Lady on Porch Photo credit: abbyladybug / Foter / CC BY-NC

Should a Newbie Author Pay For a Review?

Speaking of reviews, Perigee Moon had a nice one here. Thanks to Carrie (AKA Connie) Rubin for including me in her list of books by fellow bloggers. I read her new book too and posted a review here. And no, it wasn’t a case of “you give me five stars and I’ll return the favor”, it was a genuinely fast-paced, exciting, well-written first novel. I recommend it, especially if you like medical thrillers with a little Sci Fi thrown in. Really, I recommend it to anyone.

Another blogger, Peggy Strack, in her post about Credible Reviews and the Debut Author, talked about how she decided to spring for a Kirkus review. Kirkus will review pre-released novels, which can be a great marketing tool, supposing that you get a good review, especially if you are self-publishing.

They (Kirkus) don’t make any promises, send them a crappy novel and you’ll get a crappy review.  If it happens that way, that the review is bad, the author has the option of not accepting it and it will never be seen by anyone. So, hmmm. Doesn’t that mean that all Kirkus reviews will be good ones? On the other hand, why not? If it’s good, it’s good, and if it’s bad, no one will be the wiser, except the author who can cry about it in private.

Kirkus charges between $400 and $500 for a review, which is pricey, and probably another example of an outlay of cash for my rather expensive hobby. My books aren’t selling well, and I am struggling with marketing them. So I’m considering it.

There is another more inexpensive option that I could try, $149 for a Publisher’s Weekly review. Authors submitting to them may or may not have their books accepted for a review. 25% are accepted, and the review still is not guaranteed to be good, which of course it shouldn’t be. These reviews get published on their website, bad or good. I’m considering that too.

I also consulted the Book Blogger Directory, which is a list of blogs/sites of book reviewers who will review for nothing. Normally they specify a genre that they prefer, but sometimes they’ll say “I’ll Review Anything!!” yet when you look at what they have reviewed you see (yet again) books about vampires and drudges and werewolves. So I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to be into character-driven novels about people who came of age in the sixties.

I delved into this huge list alphabetically, and went to each site and looked to see if it could be a fit. I got through the B’s which took days of endless searching. And it has to be on a Good Internet Day, which is another story, but the short version is I have a Verizon Mifi Hotspot which tends to suck, on and off, and provide me with less than optimum opportunities to surf.

Literally, I went through hundreds of sites, and found 3 which may be applicable but learned a lot about who I might approach for a review and who I would not. The following is a list of reasons I would bypass a particular review site:

  1. Your blog says “Grand Opening June 30th, 2012” and it’s already August.
  2. The dreaded “Error 404 No Page Found” comes up. This one is self-explanatory.
  3. Your blog is not in English. This wouldn’t be a problem for an author who speaks your language, but you know, it’s probably going to be a bit of a communication barrier for us.
  4. Your last post was one year ago. Got a problem with commitment?
  5. You say you are “not currently reviewing books”. Then what are you doing on this list of book review blogs?
  6. I see reviews for books about “faeries”. Or any of the above-mentioned stuff, for the above-mentioned reason.
  7. You deign not to review self-published books. Aren’t we fussy?
  8. You say you are “currently without internet access”. Well, I know all about that. It can be a real problem, but still, better get on that if you want to be a book reviewer.
  9. You apologize profusely for your absence and give an explanation of “where you have been”. I wonder how often that happens with you, Ms. Book Reviewer. Not sure I want to take the chance that you will go away again and I’ll think it’s because you can’t bear to give me bad news.
  10. Your site offers the possibility to “embrace my decadent desires” and there is a warning that it is a “Mature Site”. Pretty sure this isn’t a good fit.
  11. Your review policy is “Coming Soon”. Shouldn’t you have this figured out before you created your site and appeared on the list?
  12. Your website/blog color combo is such that it makes it impossible for my older eyes to read the text. An example: yellow lettering against a red background. This is obviously an age discrepancy, which probably makes us incompatible as reviewer/reviewee anyway.
  13. Your reviews are so chock full of bad English and misspellings that I don’t think you’d recognize good writing if it fell at your feet. (How do you spell misspelling? Is that right?)
  14. There’s a picture of a guy with a six-pack on your latest review, and it’s not the kind that comes in cans, it’s the abdominal thing.
  15. Your site is too pink. This is irrational, I know. Just  got a feeling about it.
  16. You review The Hunger Games and the latest Nora Roberts romance novel. These books don’t need your reviews, they have the New York Times, among others.
  17. Your latest post wishes me Happy New Year (2012). See #4 above for a question about commitment.

This brings me to question if I might do reviews myself. I already have my Review Policy worked out. I’d review books in my own genre, by new authors, of my particular age group. Is there a market for it? Would anyone be interested? Would I be able to give bad news to aspiring writers? Does anyone care what I have to say anyway?

Is there a future for baby boomer literature? Or matron-lit as it’s sometimes called, although I do hate that term. Don’t you think there must be a lot of retiring boomers out there with more time on their hands now? Wouldn’t they like to read stories about their own age group?

Or are they all living in Fifty Shades of Fantasy Land?

 

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

(I must be in Rome now. Probably ready to be home again.)

I don’t remember how I heard about this novel. Maybe Goodreads or someone may have mentioned it in a blog or a comment to a blog. Whenever I see an opinion about a book, that it is “beautifully written”, I’m intrigued and if it’s even remotely within my genre comfort zone, I investigate.

The Sense of an Ending was short-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which is awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. It is a very prestigious award, and the winner can be assured of international success. It is a mark of distinction to be included in the shortlist, or even to be nominated for the longlist.

The novel takes place over a span of forty years, beginning in the sixties up to the present. Now I’m really intrigued, because that is exactly the time frame for my own novels. It’s written in first person POV, which is probably my favorite, and the main character is a very likable, if a somewhat dull, boy/man.

The first section is the backstory, in the sixties, and is a very amusing, frank account of coming-of-age as only men can do it. Men seem to be so forthright about that time in their lives when they write about it, I often wish I could enjoy the same candor.

The story takes place in London, so notwithstanding the subtle language differences as written by an English author, it is, in fact, “beautifully written”, and comedic and insightful, yet puzzling. Tony is constantly told that “he just doesn’t get it” and I must admit, I didn’t get it either, and still don’t and I think the author probably intended it that way. It’s one of those stories where, once you know how it ends, you figure out what probably happened to cause it to end the way it did.

Tony is involved with a girl, who is a PITA when she’s young, and after she comes back into his life forty years later, it’s clear she hasn’t improved, and in fact is worse than that, as if her life between then and now has been filled with sadness and hard times or both.

The book starts out with the sixties timeframe for less than half, then jumps to present day, with Tony narrating what has happened to him, as he remembers it. This is an important point because, memory, or lack of, or imperfect, is a big part of the story. How much of what we remember is true, and how much is what we have always told ourselves is true, and embellished and exaggerated as time goes on? How much of memory is what we wished had happened, so over time it morphs into being that way?

Here are some of Tony’s thoughts about memory:

  • Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.
  • What you fail to do is look ahead, and then imagine yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been.
  • We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient — it’s not useful — to believe this: it doesn’t help us get on with our lives; so we ignore it.
  • How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — to ourselves.

In the present day part, we discover that Tony had written a letter to a friend, which seemed out of character for him, in that it was cruel and unnecessary. This part bothered me, that he would do such a thing and I didn’t think it rang true. Also, did anyone use the term “control freak” during the sixties? I am always very careful of this, in my writing, did they really say this or that back then? Because, language has changed over the years and phrases we use commonly now weren’t necessarily used back then.

The letter was my main issue, I can forgive the control freak part, but it seemed like we should have been given more of the answers than we were. Everything was a bit of a puzzle. And the woman, Victoria, who kept saying he didn’t get it, I wanted to tell her, of course he didn’t get it! How could he? He wasn’t privy to the information.

But it was an enjoyable read, and once I had read it, I discovered that I needed to read it again, knowing what I now knew and when I did that, it seemed less puzzling but still, it’s clear it has been left to the reader to figure out what happened.

The observations made by Tony are priceless, and I’ve included some here that I marked while reading.

  • Most people didn’t experience “the sixties” until the seventies. Which meant, logically, that most people in the sixties were still experiencing the fifties— or, in my case, bits of both decades side by side. Which made things rather confusing.
  • There’s nothing wrong with being a genius who can fascinate the young. Rather, there’s something wrong with the young who can’t be fascinated by a genius.
  • It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.
  • What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realised? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid the bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? One whose self-rebukes never really inflicted pain? Well, there was all this to reflect upon, while I endured a special kind of remorse: a hurt inflicted at long last on one who always thought he knew how to avoid being hurt — and inflicted for precisely that reason.

I would recommend this book to anyone. It’s a short read, can be done in one sitting. It is an example of how an everyman, who pictures himself as uninteresting, boring even, is far from it. As if every life has had interest and drama along the way, even if you don’t remember that it did.

Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

(I must be back in London from Paris by now. We wanted to take the Chunnel Train for that experience. I hope the French people were okay with my woeful French!)

Initially, I was interested in The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry because it’s the success story of a self-published author making it into the big time, and a two million dollar contract. In doing my research for this post to get the particulars, I came upon an NPR story that aired back in 2008. According to that piece, Ms. Barry and her husband thought they could publish the book themselves, since they had a company which published games, but found that the game experience, while helpful, wasn’t exactly the same. The book is set in Salem so they started locally there, and gained support from local book stores, who recommended The Lace Reader to book clubs nearby. The first two clubs got printed pages of the book in boxes, as none had been printed yet, and the book clubs were encouraged to respond with feedback.

Eventually they printed 2000 copies, word of mouth spread to book clubs all over the country and the local bookstores talked the book up and helped them make important contacts in the publishing world. This led them to a publicist who got the book to the influential Publishers Weekly, and the book got a good review.

Once that happened, a Ms. Rebecca Oliver happened on the scene, a literary agent with a somewhat snarky manner and a disgusting Valley Girl accent. “When one thinks of self-published, there’s a sort of a whole, UHHM, idea of what self-published means and that’s that the author has probably tried to sell the book previously to New York publishers and they’re selling it out of the trunk of their car now. And you assume there is a certain quality to the work.” I wonder if Ms. Oliver has changed her mind, as a few years have gone by since she said this and, as we know, the self-publishing world has evolved just a bit since then, and many agents are looking for other ways to make a living.

I wish there were a way to get that VG accent onto paper. The growly, twanginess and that cute little uplift at the end of the sentence, which makes it, like, a question?

Supposedly, the book has “the kind of plot twists that readers like to dissect”. Yes. That the book has a “very compelling ending”. No.

I beg to disagree. The ending has been described by some to rival The Sixth Sense. Remember that one, where Bruce Willis finally realizes he is dead and neither he (nor the audience) had known that before? It worked, but it was a stretch. Well, this novel’s ending is a real stretch and it doesn’t work. I am frankly amazed that it can be described as “compelling”. To me, it was contrived and unbelievable. Yes, I know. It’s fiction. But still.

I liked the book mostly, the editing was perfect. It started on a somewhat funny note, a nice hook, which I always appreciate. The characters were not perfect people, which I also liked, but the mystery surrounding the drowning death of one woman, and the disappearance of another, while compelling, was resolved in a ho-hum sort of way. The real clincher came very near the end, and I nearly threw the book away at that point.

There were pretty, almost poetic lines at the beginning of each chapter, about the lace and how it could be read, which I liked. There were characters who didn’t need to be in the story at all, which I didn’t like.

I’ll do the Page 99 test on this book and find something I liked and something I didn’t. This page happens to be the first page of Chapter 11. I like the blurb at the beginning of the chapter, it is well-written. The half page of text contains short, choppy sentences. I lot of “I did this and then I did that” – Hemingwayesque, without the distinctive writing style.

The book is written in first person present tense, very difficult for an inexperienced author to do, but I thought this was done well.

I liked it well enough, I had started it once, got halfway through and shelved it before taking it up again and starting over. It was a compelling enough read for the most part, but the ending blew it for me.

Book Review: The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg

By this time, I have spent one week in London. I hope it’s going well (these posts have been schedled in advance). Here’s a lovely Women’s Fiction Novel.

Elizabeth Berg writes women’s fiction, and she does it well. She was born around the time most of the people who read this blog were, and she mostly writes stories about that age group. Her books aren’t romance novels but are stories about friendship, families, divorce, even death. I really like Ms. Berg’s novels, I’ve read several of them and I will likely go on to read many more.

The Art of Mending is about a woman, Laura, who makes her living as a quilt artist, designing custom creations for clients. She was always the domestic type, hence the title and says the following about the art of mending:

You’ll always notice the fabric scar, of course, but there’s an art to mending: If you’re careful, the repair can actually add to the beauty of the thing, because it is testimony to its worth.

At a family reunion, her sister reveals some things, things that happened during their childhood, about their mother, things that Laura doesn’t believe, or maybe she half believes, or maybe she really knew all along, but didn’t want to believe. I was hooked, on the suspense of what it was Laura’s sister would tell her, and it kept me reading.

I liked this book, but it might not be my favorite. Some of the others were funnier. Ms. Berg has a distinctive voice, and some of her characters are unusual and quirky. She writes about everyday things, things that could happen to anyone, from breast cancer to broken marriages to high school reunions.

There were characters and revelations and situations and I wasn’t quite sure why they were in the story. An example: Laura decides to throw a small dinner party and the attendees promised to make an interesting mix and then it didn’t happen. Everyone cancelled and I wondered why it was brought up in the first place. I didn’t clearly understand the motivation behind a certain revelation from her husband, and occasionally I felt like some of the story was “filler”.

The author has a way of ending a chapter that is filled with meaning. There might be a name for it; Jodi Picoult does it to an even greater degree than Elizabeth Berg, a way of saying something and then twisting it around, so that it is more dramatic. Here’s an example:

My mother, smiling brightly, looking directly into your eyes before she embraced you tightly, would feel a million miles away. My father, averting his gaze before he took you into his arms, would be the one who felt close.

(If anyone knows the name for that particular technique, please comment!)

There is a section I particularly liked, as Laura described her life and the love she has for her husband. She married later in life, he had lost his first wife, and they are a genuinely happy couple. Laura talks about how nothing has changed for her, as far as her husband is concerned, that he still thrills her, and as a couple, they are as they always were. It was a very sweet internalization, and it made me think.

I would recommend this author to anyone who likes good women’s fiction.

ABNA 2012 Young Adult Fiction Reviews

Below are my reviews of the three novels chosen in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – Young Adult Fiction. This category isn’t too easy for me to review, since many times the stories are quite far out of my realm of reason, as in, who does this appeal to anyway? The answer is clear. Young Adults, those who embraced the thousands of vampire, zombie, and werewolf books, not to mention fairies and angels for those young people who will mature into adults who read inspirational novels.

This year I rather liked two of the three. That would probably be for a couple of reasons including (but not limited to): there were no vampires, there were no zombies, and there were no werewolves. Are they going away finally?

I was majorly intrigued by one, less-majorly but still intrigued by another, and the third was not interesting to me at all, but that’s my genre bigrotry again, as I find it impossible not to be influenced by genre.

The judges have read the entire manuscripts and they usually post a review which tells what the book is about. Then they say what they believe is right or wrong with it, and then (and I wish they wouldn’t do this) they will say if it is their pick for the winner. The winners are chosen by the voters, but still, I wonder how much the votes will be influenced by what the reviewers have said.

Out of Nowhere by Rebecca Phillips. The first line:

I wasn’t sure what would kill me first—the nagging pain in my head or Dr. Kapur.

It’s a first line that is okay, but after further reading, it seems contrived. The narrator borders on hypochondria so in hindsight, the sentence is an exaggeration and is probably meant to be a good hook. I felt marginally cheated. Riley’s father died unexpectedly while microwaving a plate of lasagna a few years back, and she is not dealing with it well, and can’t walk on the spot in the  kitchen where he had fallen. It is also apparent that she is a loving sister to her seventeen-month old half-brother, by a man who is in and out, but mostly out, of her mother’s life. She disapproves of him thoroughly. It is well-written and I did like the author’s voice. But based on this excerpt, which is all I have, I would have to say it was only marginally interesting to me. It could get better but then the job of the author is to hook me immediately.

On Little Wings by Regina Sirois. The first line:

The DNA of mice and humans is 98% identical.

I like it. I liked the whole first paragraph. I found the first paragraph to be funny and witty, and even though it didn’t really tell me about the story to come, I was very much hooked and wanted to read on. 

Jennifer finds an old photo of a woman who looks uncannily like herself, tucked into the back of an old paperback from her mother’s bookshelf. She instinctively knows this woman is someone important to her, but her parents had said they were both only children. I would have liked it better if the revelation hadn’t been quite so dramatic, but turns out, this woman is her mother’s estranged sister, who her mother insists is a terrible person and who killed their mother. Jennifer then goes to see her best friend, to tell her about it. End of excerpt. The backstory of the best friend is well done, unique, an exaggerated ugly duckling scenario which was very entertaining. I liked this, loved the author’s voice. It promises to be a very satisfying story.

Dreamcatchers by Cassandra Griffin. The first line:

Two things occur to me at the same time.

As a first line, it is fine. This wouldn’t be a case of the standard first-sentence hooker because it doesn’t say too much but still, it’s fine. The first paragraph goes on to reveal the two things, an earthquake has happened, and our narrator appears to have amnesia. Uh oh. Not uh oh about these two things, but uh oh that amnesia is so lame. How many books have been written using that sorry clichéd storyline?

The earthquake unlocked the doors to some sort of hospital/mental institution (we aren’t quite sure) so the person with the amnesia was able to excape (though barely) into the night, clad in a hospital gown. She manages to score a blanket and escapes into a very bad neighborhood where she is threatened by a Very Nasty Person. She manages to get away from him by clocking him on the head. It is written in present tense, which I have come to like very much, and flows well. But it reads too much like a teen action flick for me to be able to connect with it too much. This is certainly my particular limitation, but then, I get to do that here.

My pick? Definitely On Little Wings. One out of three reviewers agreed with me. Not a good sign, but I’m sticking with my pick.

ABNA 2012 General Fiction Reviews

The six finalists for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award have been chosen. Interesting. There are only two categories, general fiction and young adult fiction. The general fiction finalists are all men, and the young adult fiction finalists are all women.

What does that say? Probably nothing.

I read the excerpts of the general fiction entries and they were all good, and all had a hook and all made me wonder what would happen next. But since I don’t have access to the entire manuscripts, I am basing my reviews on the first few chapters of each one.

Then I’m going to predict the winner, based on which I liked best, which is going to be difficult because I liked all three, but didn’t love any of them.

The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill. This starts out with a great first line hook.

Tak can’t answer the phone because the noose is too tight.

Great, I like that. The deal is, Tak has decided to do himself in and has set up this elaborate suicide event, but the ringing phone distracts him. It turns out to be a strange call, but so interesting that Tak decides to put his suicide plans on hold. Next chapter we meet, Samira who is suffering from PTSD and tells her therapist that Tak was her friend from high school, but that he killed himself four years earlier. But wait, he didn’t kill himself, so what’s going on? That’s another hook. That, of course, is the end of the excerpt. It’s interesting that many authors are using present tense, which never used to be done much. I like it. I believe this book is going to veer off into a nearly sci-fi genre, including time travel and alternate realities so I don’t think it will be something I would ultimately be too interested in. And I found a really bad metaphor.

A clock ticks softly from Carrington’s desk, muffled under a pile of paperwork like the beating heart of a boarder in a Poe story.

Do you hate that as much as I do? Classic case of TTH. (Trying Too Hard).

Grace Humiston and the Vanishing by Charles Kelly. This one is a historical mystery which takes place in 1917. It is fiction, but based on the true story of Mary Grace Winterton Humiston.

I like the voice of this author, told in the first person (but not present tense this time) by the sidekick of Grace, who idolizes her investigative methods (not to mention her physical attributes and accoutrements) from afar – he being a bit of an unseemly sort which he readily admits – and Grace being a very much the lady, well-educated, and married. It promises to be a good story, the case of a missing girl known as the White Slave Case. The excerpt ended with Grace being asked by the narrator if she will find the missing girl, to which she replies “Yes. But, I fear, not alive.”

I am curious to know why she felt that way. I believe I would enjoy this book, and I found no distasteful metaphors in the excerpt.

A Chant of Love and Lamentation by Brian Reeves. This had a good opening line too, similar to the first entry.

These are the last minutes of Charlie Kalenhano’s life.

Charlie is on some terrorist mission, perhaps suicide bomber in Hawaii, as part of a plot to regain Hawaiian independence. The excerpt doesn’t explain it. That must come later. It’s well written and I was mildly curious to know if the bomb went off or not, since Charlie had a few problems on his way to detonate the device, which is in the trunk of his cab. Bad weather, a fender bender accident, locking himself out of the car, late to arrive, etc. The excerpt, while good enough, didn’t grab me sufficiently to get me excited about reading the book when it is finally published.

Actually I liked the entries last year better than these, but my pick is Grace Humiston. We’ll see.