This is the greatest show on earth: watching people subject themselves to misery!
This is what blogs are all about: living vicariously through the troubles of others!
Sit back and enjoy the ride as your host descends into madness through literature. Argue with her as she hacks apart your favorite authors and praises other authors you’ve never heard of! This search for the best book in the library is brought to you by the gumption of your blogger and the judgement of you splendiferous spectators.
Behold the custom rating system:
4/4 Fantastic! Good show!
3/4 Solid enough to swing from on a flying trapeze.
1/4 What the devil is this drivel?
0/4 In the words of Homer Simpson, “AAH! Burn it! Send it to Hell!”
Grandma secretly hates me. I just read (well, “read”) a book for this post that came recommended by her. Either she hates me or she’s the kind of troll who lights fire to things and runs away without staying to watch the world burn. But I digress. She’s not a troll at all.
A wise person would probably not do this reading challenge, At the Mercy of My Library, knowing that following through with the entire challenge would bring nothing but pain and suffering.
I am apparently not wise; after pursuing both selections from this post’s D- authors, both of which appear to be Romance novels in their own way, I will continue to finish this challenge if it’s the last thing I do. At least I never promised to finish every book.
Let’s get this over with.
Spellbound by Sylvia Day
Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux
What?! How can a smut book surpass a genuine novel? Well, dear spectators, that depends on how you define “genuine.”
Tally ho to the reviews!
Author: Day, Sylvia Title: Spellbound Published: 2013 Pre-Read Impression: Well, I’m glad it’s a short one.
Last Impression: I’m not even sure how far I got into this novel. As soon as I decided to stop reading it, I succeeded in putting all of it out of my mind. A few plot points stayed with me, but I’m probably wrong about all of them. Forgive me (I’m being sarcastic).
Even if this book was around 100 pages, it didn’t seem to be worth the read. One character basically says to the other in the first chapter, “We’re going to have all sorts of dangerous sex because I’m the boss of everything.” See, that’s just unappealing to me. I like to be–dare I say–teased. (And when you read the next book’s review, you’ll wonder if I even know what I want.) And while the descriptions of people and sexual tension were probably well written (honestly, I didn’t even get that far), they still made me question why this book was in existence. A cheap thrill? Let someone else have it.
Stars: 0.5/4. I give this book a extra .5 because (a) it cuts to the chase, (b) it doesn’t try to advertise itself as anything else, and (c) at least the heroine isn’t, you know, uninteresting. You know what I mean.
Would I suggest this author and/or book? Okay, fine, I would suggest it to certain people. Look, it got bumped up to 1/4 stars! You win!
Author: Deveraux, Jude Title: A Knight in Shining Armor Published: 1989 Pre-Read Impression: My grandmother gave me this book one or two years ago. She’d just finished it, and the way she described the plot made this book seem like something I’d enjoy. I never say no to a free book.
Last Impression: It’s time I started saying no to free books. It’s probably also time I started doubting my grandmother’s taste in everything. This novel gave me so much frustration in only four(?) chapters that the only way to get over it was to spell it out for the internet.
The first chapter introduces Dougless, your typical push-over who is in love with someone imperfect and cries every time she turns a corner. (Seriously, so much crying. More on that later.) She anxiously awaits a marriage proposal by Robert. Robert doesn’t tell her until they reach the airport that his daughter from a previous marriage will be joining them on their romantic getaway to England. In a random churchyard on this vacation, Dougless finally loses her temper and gives the child a smack. The child then steals Dougless’s purse and Robert drives off with his daughter. Um, what? This guy left this woman WHO SHARES A HOUSE WITH HIM stranded in a foreign country without money or identification.
Dougless starts to cry. This is the only time I can believe her tears are justified, but at this point I’ve gone from, “Robert is a trope of a character, but at least he has some personality” to “Oh my fuck, no person would ever do that.”
If the first chapter was an insult to my intelligence as a reader, following chapters were jokes. Robert doesn’t return for any reason (until the second-to last chapter). Instead, he cancels reservations to all the hotels they were supposed to stay at in England. So Dougless is going to be murdered and no one will be able to identify her body because the one person who shares her mailing address left her stranded in a foreign country without identificaton so Jude Deveraux could write a story. Kidding. (Okay, the last part is true. Seriously, that’s the worst plot device I ever saw.) As soon as we meet Nicholas, that doesn’t matter because we learn the novel’s theme is “Our souls will forever be tied because you look at me from under your lashes.” (More on lashes later.)
Anyway, Dougless’s magical tears bring an earl (Nicholas, who has a statue in the church. Isn’t that convenient?) to life from the depths of history. Nicholas believes Dougless is the key to sending him back to his own time, yadda yadda yadda, she goes back in time for some reason.
I got four chapters in. Seventy pages. (That’s over my fifty-page “I’ll read whatever” rule.) After that, I flipped through to see what I would be missing when I stopped reading. Yes, they go back to Nicholas’s time. This was why Grandma thought I’d like the book. Because a knight/earl shows up in present-day England and there’s some mystery surrounding his destiny. She’s right in that I do love historical fiction. However, I wasn’t going to put up with shoddy writing for a historical thrill.
Check out this steaming pile of gems:
She started to speak again but he told her to be quiet and she was.
That sentence is its own paragraph. That sentence must be the most unneeded paragraph in the history of all books.
Here’s another riveting one:
He looked at her but said nothing and Dougless quit smiling.
Can someone tell me what’s wrong with using mid-sentence punctuation?
So Dougless commits herself to someone who both threatened her with a sword and won’t stop following her around. Never mind the vicar, who was at the church the whole time. He could help both Nicholas with his time travel conundrum and Dougless’s identity theft. The general population (i.e. writers of all things books, movies, and TV shows) doesn’t seem to remember church employees are good for fictional people other than spiritual guidance. (That’s something I have to work on as a writer, too.) But no, Dougless has to skip around town doing errands for someone she never met even though she promised herself never to take on another needy man. And why? Because the heroine in these kinds of romance novels are required to be idiots in order for true love to do its thing.
Don’t get me started on the self-imposed misogyny. About half of Dougless’s thoughts are on her own appearance, including that fact that it’s perfectly normal to spend someone else’s money on makeup because she thinks he’s cute whenever it’s convenient.
While these two go around playing Wow Look At This Thing That Didn’t Exist In My Time, the heroine becomes attached to him even as she continues convincing herself this is a person she just met yesterday, who she believes has suffered either amnesia, a mental breakdown, or has never been in his right mind in the first place.
She woke before dawn, smiling before she woke to feel Nicholas’s warm, big body next to hers.
Something about that doesn’t seem right, and it isn’t just because she snuggled next to a naked man she believes to be clinically insane. Is it me or did she wake up twice in the same sentence?
So, what about the ending? Surely the payoff is worth it.
Dougless figures out how not to be a doormat, leaves Nicholas back in his own time, tells off Robert in an unsatisfying way, and meets an incarnation of Nicholas. I skipped everything but the last chapter, where there were more entire paragraphs made only to insult me:
She looked at him then, really looked at him. He glanced down at the portrait, then up at her, and when he did so he looked at her through his lashes, just as Nicholas used to do. “What do you do for a living?” she whispered.
I see three problems with this.
She’s really looking at him and we don’t receive much feedback. What is it about him besides basic movement that enamors you? The Nicholas comparison? We already received comparisons. We know by now in the story they’re spiritually related. Just stop.
The other two problems are common in Romance novels (as far as I know).
2. The whispering. I guarantee you no one does that much actual whispering in the author’s mind. No one walks around whispering! Readers, what authors are actually trying to portray here is a softness in the speech that becomes redundant when described as “said softly.” How many times in romance films and soap operas do you hear people whispering to each other in public? None that I’ve seen.
3. Lashes! Everyone in romance novels every look at each other through or from under lashes.
Dear Lash Looker Haters,
This isn’t a new descriptive concept. Dashiell Hammet did this in The Maltese Falcon, but just because it worked for him doesn’t mean it’s going to work somewhere else. That was film noir he was writing for. It worked for the style. Go on hating it when it’s used in terrible novels, but don’t you touch my beautiful noir!
Dear Lash Looker Lovers,
All your characters look like they’re giving each other the stink-eye. Does anyone look each other in the eye any more? Put down your phones and have a real conversation, damn it, that doesn’t require the heroine to recount all her previous fifty steps while we have to read about it!
This is something Jenny Trout complained about when reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey (love ya, JT). After reading this A Knight in Shining Armor, I’m starting to believe all romance novels are terribly written on purpose and Fifty Shades of Bad Writing isn’t all that special or especially bad after all. It uses many of the same over-explored devices:
irritatingly innocent heroines;
men who treat women like shit;
annoying women/girls who adore the men who treat the heroine like shit;
men who show up for the sole purpose to save the heroine;
poor descriptions of gestures, habits, and appearances on top of other poor writing;
the list goes on!
If this is what the entire genre of Romance is like, count me out forever.
Stars: 0/4. Maybe I’m being harsh. Other books by Deveraux are, I’m sure, better. This one was her first, after all. My version was also published before her fabled rewrite that may or may not have fixed everything. I don’t care.
I wrote this post with the most calming music in the background, cuddled up in my warm, comfy chair, and I’m still stewing in anger!
This challenge has a long way to go before I find anything worth writing home about. Next time, I’ll read an Amish Romance. That will be new and exciting. (keyboard breaks due to sarcasm overload)
Welcome, all to the first ever Mini-Scuffle of the most Scuffley website this side of the universe!
Each Mini-Scuffle pits together 2-3 books based on theme, such as cover similarities, title similarities, or personality questionnaire results. (Just kidding.)
Hold on to your hats!
Theme: Black and White Covers
Heartland by Davis Bunn
The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey
And away we go!
Every result deserves an explanation, so let’s get to the reviews.
Title: Heartland Author: Davis Bunn Published: 2006 Pre-Read Impression: I love anything that involves fictional people coming to life, or any character who goes through multiple stories or dimensions. This proves to be a delightful tale.
Last Impression: My, what boring sod is this? It began with a promising premise: a pure-hearted, country rancher named Jayjay wakes up in Hollywood only to discover he’s the new star of an old show about him. About him! Imagine what shenanigans could happen!
The film crew in this novel, albeit filled with bit players, seemed to be the driving force of the plot. Without them, the movie in the novel wouldn’t have gotten finished. Somewhat unseasoned in their roles, they aren’t sure if they can pull off a big project. Jayjay, the new star, is attracted to the woman who plays his love interest on the show, which was probably the most obvious part of this novel. Jayjay is also unsure if he’s as pure as everyone says he is, even though he does nothing contradictory to this idea. A few Hollywood bigwigs are secretly working to sabotage the franchise because of greed or evil or, well, I don’t even know or care why. The descriptions of how or why things work in Hollywood seem to imply everyone who works in the industry who isn’t Christian must be soulless. I’ve read much better descriptions by people who have actually been swallowed by the city of Hollywood and seen more than film portrayals of executive producers. Looking back at this novel, what I ended up getting was a handful of repetitive scenes. It goes between voicing the doubts of the film crew and following the decisions of the bigwigs behind the franchise as they seek to orchestrate its demise.
It was at this point that I realized Bunn is primarily classified as a “Christian author.” (That’s what the internet says, anyway.) As the ringleader of this literary debacle, I enjoy being equally harsh to all novels who stumble, blindfolded, into my spotlight. As a person who happens to be of the Christian persuasion, herself, I’m inclined to be more harsh to fellow countrymen, not more praising. I have artistic standards regardless of religious affiliation.
Bunn can write, though. When the mayor (Was he the mayor? Oh, it doesn’t matter anymore.) was introduced, Bunn went beyond the height/weight/eyes/hair that most not-so-decent authors use too much.
The man wore an electric-blue jacket and a Ford Racing tie and a grin big as a shout.
A few paragraphs later…
His energy disguised the fact that he wasn’t a large man. His smile was the grandest part of him, creasing everything from his neck to his forehead. He bounced on his toes while shaking JayJay’s hand, as through the delight he felt required every inch of his frame.
To put so much care into the description of a minor character is a sign of respect for the writing art form. However, this quality seemed to rare. When Jayjay watched his crush sing, the description of her was decent and some Bob Dylan gospel was cited. But when asked what style she sang, J-man responded,
“Christian with an edge.”
“Christian” is a market, not a style. There is gospel, which is made for Christian markets. There are also rock and pop styles made for Christian markets, but those bands stick to the secular styles of their times. (Example: the timeline of DCTalk.) Many choral works could be put in that category if you wanted to over-simplify things, but not all choral works fit that market. Just because Bach wrote music for churches doesn’t mean those songs should be put in a strict classification.
Just for the sake of shoving a stick in my craw, the hero’s name is JayJay. Not Jayjay, not J.J. There’s a capital letter in the middle of his name. Why? It was cool until I took a disliking to the main character. He wasn’t conflicted enough for him to be believable. His first day on set, the character playing his sister, Claire, flirts with him. The situational comedy of it is exciting until the love interest written specifically for the film’s script, Kelly, shows up. Claire is all but forgotten about, until she’s sometimes prescribed as a troubled person through her actions or words. In a crew prayer group (founded by none other than our hero), Claire cried and asked for people to pray for her, and we never found out what it was that troubled her. I skimmed the last fifty pages of the book to find any mention of her, and there was nothing about her personal life. (Readers are welcome to find this part in the novel and prove me wrong.)
Listen, Bunnbunn. If you’re going to introduce a character who antagonizes the hero, then reveals herself to be in emotional trouble, you need to catch up your readers on that. More time could have been spent on Claire than on Kelly’s mother, whose presence still confuses me. Then again, I couldn’t finish reading the book.
Stars: 2/4. Bunn wrote a book I enjoyed (at first). He gets credit for painting a few scenes, but loses them for lack of follow-up of the characters who were actually interesting.He also gets credit for the scenes where Jayjay and the actor who plays him are in the same room together. This book loses stars for writing the same scenes over and over with the Hollywood executives and for describing secondary Asian characters as being “honorable” one too many times for comfort.
Title: The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley Author: Jeremy Massey Published: 2015 Pre-Read Impression: It looks to be a dark comedy, and that’s just what it is.
Last Impression: Ladles and germs, I’m terrible at writing reviews when I thoroughly enjoyed a novel. Having just finished it, I will try.
The beginning put me into the mind of the character very well, and the middle kept me interested. The action-packed climax was easy to follow, something not all authors can do well. The last chapter felt a bit too flowery. But in the end? I read the first few pages again. That’s the sign of a good book: when you reach the end and want to find yourself back at the beginning.
What else can I say?
This takes place in Dublin, where I’ve never been, and descriptions of the setting didn’t place me there very well. That didn’t matter as I needed to know more about Paddy’s occupation at a funeral home, which Massey succeeded in describing.
Fair Warning: If you are currently in the process of mourning a loved one, proceed with caution. I’d still recommend this book because it may help you shape your memories and live vicariously through the hero. However, this book made me cry when I had some wicked PMS. (Bad Author! Making grown women cry. How dare you be good at this.)
The irony that the main character works at a funeral home isn’t lost on you from the very beginning. I love tragic comedies, and I loved this book.
Stars: 3.5/4. I reserve my 4/4 stars for absolutely life-changing books. I’ll still suggest Paddy Buckley to anyone! This was one of my best reads in 2016 so far, and the year is more than half over.
P.S. Paddy Buckley would make a great movie. I mean that as a compliment.
This one was a roller coaster, folks! We started out excited, were thrown for a loopty-loop, sent through a tunnel of twists and turns, up and down, with frightful images springing at us at every turn! The ride wouldn’t end!
And then it did. With a classic from Michael Crichton, we coasted to a stop, not minding a few bumps, and settled on the other side of the track as a new person.
This was your host’s first Crichton novel. That’s right, I don’t get to the modern classics very often. How proud I was. But, also, how devastated. Doomsday isn’t as glamorous as the movies make it seem.
Enough ado. On to the challenge! What did we read today?
Whatwhatwhat?! An unknown beat the almighty Crichton?
This is why we finish with reviews, folks. Have at them!
Author: Chabon, Michael Title: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Published: 1988 Guess the Genre: Dudes, I don’t even care! I’ve read Gentlemen of the Road twice (one time it was a comfort story while I had the flu) and loved it both times. I’m biased for this author based on only one of his books, but I have to tell you I’m exciiiiited!
Pre-Read Impression: Hmm, there’s no summary. When there are only quotes of praise on the back AND inside of a novel, in my experience, it’s probably a crap novel. But we’ll find out when I read it.
Last Impression: It started out well, despite how I loathe stories about depressed grad students. (He was a grad student, right? English Lit, right? It really doesn’t matter.) I also loathe stories about depressed people whose sole purpose is to meet sparkly, unique people who get the main character into trouble. The protagonist goes along for the ride and doesn’t seem to have a say in his life, and we all know it’s because the protagonist is only a representation of the author himself and the only way the author COULD introduce the sparkly pixies was if he put himself in the book because he had no idea how to write for other characters without making himself the focus. (Phew!)
Sorry about the rant. I still like Michael Chabon and hope to read another of his books someday. It’s just… I’m pretty sure The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is the literary version of Garden State.
Stars: 2/4. I ended up skimming the last third to see how it ended. Once I learned how it ended, I was excited and still couldn’t bring myself to care.
Author: Cleave, Paul Title: Joe Victim Published: 2013 Guess the Genre: Murder thriller. Pre-Read Impression: Psychological detective something, I don’t know, for some reason I want to hurry up and read this.
Last Impression: I couldn’t consume this fast enough. Cleave’s crisp writing, combined with the unreliable narrator, made me sit up. Physically, literally sit up. This isn’t a lazy story. The main character is a murderer who doesn’t believe he’s a murderer. Other character’s stories are told, as well, and they’re far more interesting, sometimes, than the protagonist. This is another book that’s split between first person and third person, which appears to be a wonderful device. I’m a fan of Paul Cleave now.
Although I’m not supposed to read sequels for this challenge, this book is actually a sequel to The Cleaner and I couldn’t tell sometimes. In the end, it didn’t matter; Joe Victim was pretty good on its own. I’m excited to read another of Cleave’s novels. It might not be The Cleaner, either. I need to see what he does with other characters, but I’m also intrigued to see how little Joe Victim got into this predicament.
Stars: 3.25/4. We have a 3! Glory be, we have a 3!
The 45 Challenge hereby has one of its five finalists!
Author: Crichton, Michael Title: Andromeda Strain Published: 1969 Guess the Genre: The genre is Michael Crichton, LOL. Pre-Read Impression: We all love this guy, don’t we? I’ve never read anything by him, sadly. It’s about time I do this!
Last Impression: This novel took a while for me to love, unfortunately. The beginning promised a good book, and the end promised me that I’d just read a good book, but it took me two months to read this, damn it! It wasn’t because I was savoring the story or the writing. No. It was because all the cool graphs couldn’t quite spice up all the scientific- and government-speak. I find these languages dry and drying.
It seems tragic I don’t have much to say about this story. In fact, I’m wondering whether I want to read another Crichton novel at all. I might like the movie better. Or the mini-series.
Stars: 3/4. In the end, I think this was a good book. The thought of some minor bacteria on a spacecraft having huge mortal repercussions should be frightening for everyone. Also, the subject matter in comparison to the book’s publishing date is intriguing. I can see how Crichton carved himself a nice place in modern fiction.
If he didn’t carve a literary niche for himself, we’ll all be eaten alive by bacteria anyway!
No, gentle bloggerinos, the title of this post isn’t in a tizzy of confusion. What’s before your eyes is merely an expression of your gentle reader’s impressions.
This batch of novels, which we will expound upon shortly, showed good variety. The first promised a high-speed car chase for my mind. When it came down to reading it, there seemed to be no end to the blasted chase! How is it possible that something so quick can go on forever? Like many car chases, we live in the thrill of the moment and never know when it will end, despite the increasing built of suspense.
Even when we’re so deep in a novel we need a diving shot line to guide us back, we know when it will end. We hold its physical wonder in our hand and can gauge the weight of the novel by our location in its spine. What if a book is slowly paced, and its development doesn’t leave us guessing? This is where the craft of writing gets to show itself off. Can the weight of a novel, so different to another, be considered equal to the other? I suppose that depends on the personal scale of the reader.
So which is better? Faster paced books or the ones that take their time getting to the sweet spots? Your preference is yours alone, but you must defend it wherever you can.
Let’s get on with the novels!
Breakdown of the contestants:
Author: Barney, James Title: The Genesis Key Published: 2011 Guess the Genre: Thriller about biology? Pre-Read Impression: Archaeology! Genetics! Intrigue! Washington DC!
Last Impression: Never fear, for I was right about everything. This novel was exciting! The problem? It just wouldn’t end! I made the mistake of setting it aside for a few days (more like a few months) to work on a writing deadline, and each couple of times I came back to the novel, my interest wavered. By the time I was 3/4 through, the events wouldn’t stop coming when I expected a conclusion. It was like an action movie; they put in so many close calls to keep you on the edge of your seat, give you a “thrilling experience,” and all that. Except the problem with that is I read a lot of these twists on my short lunch breaks and if I fell off my chair I’d get ravioli everywhere. This is the type of novel you have to binge read, not set aside for days at a time. I’d still recommend the book with this advice: DO NOT put it down. For anything.
Stars: 2.5/4. The “.5″is for how far into the book I got. Had I finished it and not moved on to greener pastures, the rating would be a 3/4. The paperback copy (is there any other?) is very light, the print is large, and the pacing is quick. This novel makes a great lunch break ravioli. I mean, uh, a great lunch break read.
And I must add: this would make an exciting movie. Who else would like to see this trained monkey?
Author: Brackston, Paula Title: The Winter Witch Published: 2013 Guess the Genre: Historical romance. Pre-Read Impression: Well, it’s about a witch. It’s about a witch with powers. It’s about a witch who can’t control her powers and falls in love. Should be interesting.
Last Impression: This took me back. There was a time when all I read were novels about witches full of woe, and the first couple of pages impressed me. The point of view was presented in an interesting way. It was half first-person POV from the main character (the witch), half 3rd person omniscient POV. I enjoy it when authors experiment with character perceptions. However, the strong beginning wasn’t enough for me to continue. Brackston tended to use one of my pet peeves in which characters process through questions in lieu of providing some advance in the plot. As much as I wanted to know what happened with the main character, and guess what other characters would end up doing to her, if getting through the novel was the price I had to pay for that, I didn’t care to finish.
Stars: 2.5/4. The extra .5 is specifically for the Welsh language in conversation. I know nothing of the language but it made my heart warm. If I read this novel back when I was interested in these stories, it would certainly have made me a Welshophile. (What’s the proper word for Welshophile? Who cares!)
When am I going to find a book I can actually finish? I used to read books like this all the time, when I lived and breathed fantasy in junior high. Have I grown tired of the genre? Am I out of practice? Maybe I should move on to other books, or should I give this one another chance?
Author: Burton, Mary Title: You’re Not Safe Published: 2014 Guess the Genre: Looks like it might be a thriller/horror. Pre-Read Impression: Okay. Wow. Murder thriller. Can’t wait for this one.
LAST impression: When I opened Burton’s book, it said to me, “You’re in good hands.” At the same time, my personal scale didn’t simply shift to treat the latter book better. The story promised a slow pace with a fast, heart-thudding appeal. The paperback form helped me take in this cult type of story. It felt right, but it still wasn’t my type of story.
This turned out to be a cop drama. Only sort of a murder thriller. This should have upset me, since I’m so tired of detective shows. (Meme: “The amount of cop shows on television is TOO DAMN HIGH!”) However, I enjoyed this novel for quite some time. The inner turmoil of the characters intrigued me, as did the mystery as to who was committing the murders. What prevented me from finishing was how annoyed I became every time I had to read about a certain character’s backstory AGAIN. There’s really no need to rehash your heroine’s past every single chapter. We get it. Only a hundred pages away from the end, I decided to stop reading and check out the epilogue. Everything turned out how I thought it would, and that was nice, but I was done.
This doesn’t mean Burton did a terrible job. It means I wasn’t as invested in the story as I wanted to be for the simple reason that I’m tired of cop dramas. (Except Backstrom and Psych. Those shows, man. Those shows. I miss you.) If I come across any of Burton’s works that aren’t cop dramas, I’d definitely take a gander. Her command of dialogue is superb and keeps me reading even when I don’t want to. Her general prose, too, is conversational, and even if I didn’t care for the story, the confidence I glean from her skill puts me at ease. It’s not often an author can do that for me.
Stars: 2.75? Okay, I’m making up this rating as I go along. Had I finished, this would have been a 3/4.
The pacing in this batch of novels seems to have thrown me off balance. Of course, that could be my ineptitude at balancing on this bloody beach ball.
I love novels, but I hate their beginnings. The beginning of anything, actually, is tedious. When you learn a certain skill, such as how to juggle chainsaws, there’s so much prep work, so much basic training you have to suffer before getting to the good stuff. You must master juggling pumpkins and hatchets before ripping the chord on that first chainsaw. This is why I hate the beginnings of novels; I have to wade through the sticky sludge of exposition pumpkins and world-building hatchets before the plot revs up, and before I feel I know the characters. I’m sure this is why editors also hate the beginnings of novels. Often times, editors (and readers) don’t manage to get through them.
Why must we readers have to sit through the performer’s training before the show? This is one of the key reasons why writing a novel is hard. I feel every novelist’s pain. If the first chapter is crucial for their scene-setting, skill-honing kumquats and tennis balls, the following three chapters are more crucial for their watermelons and throwing knives.
Over the past two years, I’ve been rewriting no fewer than four novel beginnings. Yes, the novels themselves are getting better, thanks for asking. My assortment of pink and orange fuits pair nicely with the rose of my plot. No, the process of rewriting isn’t getting any easier, damn it all. My fruit salad still lacks a certain substance.
For the sanctity of fiction, I must put out a NOTE TO ALL AUTHORS: I couldn’t care less about your social reject’s problems. Not at first. What I care about is how he feels when his head is in a toilet while he’s getting a swirly.
(What do swirlies, juggling, and fruit have in common, you ask? All three go around and around and around.)
I have an odd aversion to reading any novel when it comes home fresh from the library. Writers, take pity on your readers. We have to stick our heads in your writing and swirl it around until we’re drowning in your tasty story. Make that flush so strong you knock off our glasses with your writing-metaphor-toilet-water, or so articulate the water picks up our glasses and folds them for us.
I’ll work on my own cooking skills. No one is perfect, but the beginning of any novel should be worth a try. …Right?
On to the show!A authors, here we come! (Please refer to the rules page for any questions.)
Breakdown of the contestants:
Author: Anderson, B. Kent Title: Cold Glory Published: 2011 Puess the Genre: Modern day history drama! Pre-Read Impression: Old objects, suspense, and cops? I’m in.
Last Impression: …Or not. I gave up exactly on page 128. The plot was really starting to rev up, but there were a few things I couldn’t get past. First, I wasn’t too invested in the characters. Anderson didn’t spend as much time personally getting to know these people than he did coming up with plot points to get them moving. It wasn’t enough for me to feel as if I, The Reader With Capital Letters, personally knew these people. Then again, I’m someone who spends way too much time getting to know her characters than she does coming up with things for them to do.
There was one character in particular who was trying to hard to be this Strong Female Character everyone is searching for these days (as well they should). She was good enough until two things happened. I’ve just finished reading a different novel in which the female protagonist goes out of her job description to risk her life solving a case because, for some weak reason, she makes it personal. I saw smatterings of that plot device here. On page 128, to be exact. I’d normally let that slide, but it happened soon after I was confused by one of her actions: she went to a meeting without her shoes. Erm…uh… women don’t do that. No matter how “strong,” self-possessed, or confident she is, a woman simply doesn’t step outside, get into a car with her supervisor, and lead a meeting in which she has to convince other people to work with her, all because her feet hurt. I give Anderson some slack because he isn’t a woman. Sometimes writing the opposite gender is difficult. I get that. Of all the objects she left behind because this character was frustrated or in a hurry, I don’t understand why it had to be the shoes. Damnation, strong women wear shoes!
Lastly, there were one too many mentions of “Perry Mason.” This is a minor offence, and a stupid reason for me not to like something, but I have a deep loathing for that show strictly for personal reasons.
Despite the above events that turned me off, the writing was exciting enough.
Stars: 2/4. That’s not bad! Although I didn’t care to finish this book, I would recommend it to anyone over fifty years old or anyone who loves government conspiracy novels.
Author: Aw, Tash Title: Five Star Billionaire Published: 2013 Guess the Genre: Soap opera set in Shanghai? What little exposure I’ve had to China and literature was pretty good, so I’m a excited for this.
Pre-Read Impression: A small cast of characters might be puppets to a billionaire.
Last Impression: Let’s start with the good points. It was cool to hear/see a language different from what I’m used to. I had to look up a few locations and words, but I’m not complaining. Aw did a wonderful job putting me in another setting with food, descriptions of strangers, and unfamiliar vocabulary, but it’s where he also lost me; every single one of his characters appeared to be depressed for one reason or another that the most stunning parts of the book weren’t any of the main characters. Every protagonist was a depressed body surveying the landscape. I can’t sink my teeth into a book like that. Why is it general/literary fiction tries to be depressing all the time? This shouldn’t be a breakthrough concept in fiction anymore. 100 pages in, it was evident I wouldn’t finish this novel, just like the last one. I spent 147 pages wondering when the story would begin, and once it did begin I still wasn’t intrigued.
Stars: 2.5/4. Even though this rating is about the same as above novel’s, this one was still better. The writing was better and that counts for something. I would suggest this book to nearly everyone; my experience with it shouldn’t force others to be down about it.
Needless to say this first show didn’t knock the glasses off my face. But that’s OK. I’m glad I found out what they were about. You should read them yourself! Tell me what you think.