Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sandra R. Campbell; "Butterfly Harvest"

Butterfly Harvest is admittedly not my cup of tea. It’s just not the kind of story I actively seek to read. BUT, I did read it, and I don’t have awful things to say about it.

The first thing that struck me, seeing that I am always looking at the whole package of a published book, was the cover. The design could have been distilled down to just the butterfly with the soft diffused glow on a black background with the title and it would have sufficed. There just seemed to be too many elements in the picture, the faded silhouette, the soft hit of a skeletal structure, the forest background, the foreground trees… I dunno… a little editing wouldn’t have hurt.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this book. Here are the positive points: It’s well written. The author is a good writer. The text is stunningly edited and it’s a clean, professional looking book. I didn’t find too many errors to halt my eye as I read. I was also compelled to read forward, even though the story itself wasn’t exactly the sort of thing I devour on a daily basis.

The story is about sixteen-year-old misfit Seanna. A product of a dysfunctional home, Seanna has a hard time fitting in with life. She spends time rescuing animals, skipping school to day-dream and avoiding her less-than-stellar life with her food-addicted mother, alcoholic and abusive father and slightly slutty sister. In a moment of crisis during a violent encounter with her abusive father, a handsome, powerfully attractive figure comes to her aid. The fellow named Samuel manages to insinuate himself into her life, and in doing so, turns it into a surreal succession of catastrophes. She seems powerless against this creature, and as those around her fall, she seems further and further enmeshed in this bleak destiny at the side of this mysterious Samuel.

The story was a little all over the place. There were SO many characters that came and went it was hard to keep track of who was who and how they were significant to the story. There was also the fact that frankly, the heroine of this book is really not very likable. She is weak-willed, harsh and horrid about her mother's food addiction, self-absorbed and lacking some depth as a character. There were people who were crucial to the plot who I learned very little about, and some relationships that were suddenly remarkably close despite there being very little to motivate them to be so. The book seemed more like a framework rather than a completed work. The book could benefit from the author sitting down to pad it out some more with more descriptive writing, paring down her characters a bit, adding depth to those she does keep, and adding in some flesh around the bones of the characters' relationships.

In the end, it was still a really readable novel. For those who read King and Koontz, this thing might be right up their alley. I give this book a solid 4 medallions—I won’t dock it medallions just because I’m not a fan of thrillers/horrors. For a piece of independent work, it’s a professional, excellently presented package, and I recommend it to the fans of eerie books.

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0557584671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0557584673

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Amanda Hocking; "Switched", "Torn, "Ascend"

In these three little novels, trolls exist (and we’re not talking the kind of troll you find on the internet trawling for attention…), they can pass for human except for their unique powers, and they are still switching out their babies for human ones as changelings where they are raised by rich families. The trolls are using humanity to sustain themselves. The troll changelings come of age and return to the Troll communities to bring their hefty inheritances home to fund the Troll communities that await them.

Wendy is such a changeling. She was raised by a mother that actually tried to kill her because she knew Wendy wasn’t hers. Sometime after her mother is placed in a mental institution and she becomes her aunt’s ward along with her brother, Wendy is astonished to discover she has a real mother who also happens to be Queen of the Troll ‘Trylle’ enclave. She discovers in book 1, that she is a princess and she has her own Tracker (protectors and servants of sort) named Finn with whom she finds herself enamoured., She also meets a human boy who turns out to be the foster-family’s child with whom she was switched. She also discovers that her new community over which she may reign someday is practicing traditions she’s ashamed of—and that she’s being hunted by another group of trolls from a different enclave known as the Vittra.

Wendy walks out of a difficult childhood into a confusing life with a mother who is cold and demanding, a future that is daunting and fraught with danger, and a bleak prospect for romance considering that trackers are untouchables to the royalty class.

These books are fun. I devoured them. I bought them with little hope for them being anything decent, but I was surprised. There is the taste of youth in the books, but they are not hideously written, and the writer has acquired the skill of drawing her readers in and keeping their attention. She does repeat phrases again and again sometimes, but her manuscripts are very well edited and clean, which is always a relief whenever I pick up an indie book. Thank you, Miss Hocking for being thoughtful and considerate to your readers.

The covers are wonderful in their simplicity and artfulness. I think they’re beautiful, and they don’t scream self-published like many others do. After a little poking about, it looks like Miss Hocking has a really great tact for being a prolific writer, for producing professional books, and for marketing herself nicely. She is actively managing a blog and website. It’s quite impressive, and I think a lot of indie authors could learn from what this young woman is doing. I think this girl has a strong chance of attracting attention from a traditional publisher.

There are some things about the books that do bother me, but that's likely because I'm not fourteen. The author's skill for description needs work, but that will come with more experience. These books read as very simple... the writing is basic. The stories are really fun and original... but these are definitely books for tweens and teens.

I give these books all a good, solid 4 medallions each -- I feel inclined to give one of them less than that, but I am rating them as a package. So 4 it is.

Lauren Burd; "Immortal"

The gift of a B&N Nook has been both a gift and a bane, because I find myself reading fifty times more than I used to; and my free time is already so limited. ::sigh:: I also tend to browse the nookbooks and buy whatever suits my fancy, since the nookbooks are so cheap and so easy to breeze through.

Immortal is one of four books I’ve read by independent authors that I’ve decided to do non-queried reviews on. The next three books will be done in one post because they are all three in one series. I already had an idea that Immortal would be very closely aligned to the Twilight saga. The story reflected much of Bella’s story.

* Pale, seemingly complicated heroine who has no idea how incredibly beautiful and attractive she really is, and thinks herself quite ordinary and plain against her friends [check]

* Parental relationship problems [check]

* Irresistible to supernatural creatures. [check]

* Misunderstanding and lack of communication. [check]

* Rivals fighting over her (what girl in her late teens and early twenties doesn't fantasize about that?). [check]

* Sudden threat appears in middle of book. [check]

There are some efforts to make this story its own ‘being’ so to speak, to separate itself from the collection of what is essentially Twilight fan-fic flooding the nookbook and kindle lists. It’s a tolerable story that I was compelled to read, so it shows that the author knows how to tell a story… and she knows how to draw in a reader. As independent books go, it's really readable. Like the three books to follow this review, I devoured it. That’s good, especially coming from me, considering that if a book doesn’t draw me in by the first few pages, I’ll huck it aside and forget about it. I’ll sometimes grudgingly drag myself through some particularly bad books, but rarely. If I already feel like I’m going to rip it to shreds with a scathing review, I’ll forget about it.

But what Miss Hurd has done that does make me bristle, is that she published something that was not polished or ready for publication. And this is my usual gripe about independent books… Authors… GET AN EDITOR! God damn it! It can take a good book and bring it down to nothing if you don’t have it polished. I don’t care what you do, take it to an old professor, do SOMETHING, but have it proofread. I simply despise reading along and coming along a ridiculous error that immediately ruins the experience. The flow of the writing is instantly marred when I come across typos, bad grammar (this is really irritating to me… the use of apostrophes is really not so complex as it cannot be learned), misused words, overly-repeated phrases and descriptions, and inconsistencies. It is my biggest pet peeve and it should be one of the primary considerations before anyone decides to hit that ‘submit’ button on PubIt!.

As for the story… well, I think the author needs to work a bit harder on adding a smidge more sophistication to her work, but I really cannot find too much fault with her writing in general. Sure she repeats a lot, sure it’s simplistic, as is most YA material… but it can be simple and still have a tiny shred of maturity to it. Also she should go back and secure the services of a good, experienced editor… and she should work harder to try to keep her story original. I imagine if Miss Burd was writing something that wasn’t based on the standard framework of the vampire teeny-angsty book, her writing style with some originality could really take her places.

I also am feeling a bit cheated. Miss Burd showed some promise at the beginning of her book, hinting at a complex relationship between Alina and her mother. It was the sort of thing I hoped the whole thing would be framed around… her choices, her reactions, her behaviours, influenced by her mother’s abandonment of her. But I was very disappointed. She never expanded upon it once she hinted at it. I wanted to know why they were not getting along—and how that affected Alina’s choices. It's like as soon as Alina left she completely forgot about her except to mention her a bit during one conversation. It was not explained at all, and I think it would have added some serious depth to what is a fluffy story otherwise. Her relationship with her father also… very vague.

I know it’s hard to juggle a lot of characters… and that’s something all independent and new authors have to think about. If you connect people with too many relationships, it’s impossible to carry them all through the story. You have to just drop people, and keep the story going, and leave the reader wondering what the hell happened to them. You should not invest your readers in someone, and then just forget about them.

This could be an excellent story if she took it down from web-sale, and sat down on a nice, warm weekend, and started padding out some of the bones of the story, adding some complexity to her characters, giving them depth and motivations, and raising it a level from the rest of the chaff. She could also work on padding out the brief encounters with the hero, so that the love that they feel for one another is actually based on more than a few chance encounters and chemistry (which the heroine seems to share with more than one fellow through the story) She could really do it too, because her writing is actually quite good.

This is why I’m not going to give the book a bad rating. It isn’t a bad book… it just needs more work. Four medallions.