Thursday, 17 July 2014

Holy Crucial Moment!

I’m reading a book. 

If you’ve read it, you’ll know which one I’m talking about, but if you haven’t it’s not important. For the purposes of this post I shall call it Batman and Robin. It’s an intriguing story about first love in which the two slightly off-beat, weird, non-conformist teenage protagonists might or might not get it together.

Love's young dream
The thing is, I was enjoying Batman and Robin very much. It’s sweet, subtle, and clever. And there’s a slow dribble of back-story from which a rather disturbing and heart-breaking picture of Robin’s horrible family life emerges. I was hooked and completely emotionally involved . . . until the moment when some unlikely thing happened.

Briefly, Robin hears gunshots in his house and, terrified, climbs through the bedroom window to phone the police from a neighbour’s house. But when the police arrive, they send HIM back in through the window (to where the gunshots were) so that he can open the door and let them in…

"Holy Catastophe, Robin.
We have to save this plot!"
And I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe this would happen. Wouldn’t the police be calling up armed support? Wouldn’t they be looking after the young Robin? Wouldn’t they be the ones climbing through the window to remove his younger siblings to safety? It's unbelievable and I can't understand how this could have got through the editing stage. What's more, I don’t understand its purpose in the narrative, other than to set up a situation in which we know there is the potential to be shot in Robin’s house. Surely there are better ways of doing this?

Suspension of disbelief is essential for a story to work, whatever the genre. If readers are to invest emotional energy and involvement in our stories, we (the writers and editors) must eradicate anything which seems implausible and gives them reason to question our words. Big no-nos include:
  • Getting facts wrong
  • Inconsistency (with character, plot or setting)
  • Characters failing to react
  • Coincidence
  • Lack of clarity
  • Plot holes

I’m not entirely sure which category Robin’s half-baked policemen fall into – it’s somewhere between 'getting facts wrong' and 'plot holes' – but I’m afraid they have ruined the book for me. Disbelief is no longer suspended. Disbelief has been set free from its cage and is now crashing through the rest of the narrative wearing critical hobnailed boots. Disbelief has created a gaping chasm in which I am forced to question the mechanics of the text.

My emotional commitment has disappeared and I am lost.

Do they or don't they?
I'll never know.
Do they or don't they? I might not even bother reading to the end; which means of course, I’ll never know if the Holy Love Birds finally get it together.

But really, am I bothered?

Friday, 4 July 2014


Last week, the lovely/enigmatic/crazed* (delete as appropriate) KINDLE NINJA asked me if I'd like to do a book review with him/her. It is impossible to say no to a Ninja, so I said yes. 

We chose, Between Octobers by A.R. Rivera because we were both grabbed by the Look Inside bit on Amazon, and after reading, we settled down at the Ninja's pad for a full and frank discussion. 

And this is what we came up with...

Grace Zuniga, a yearling widow, is convinced she can never fall in love again. She has surrendered to a quiet life on a quiet street, existing in a world that revolves around her two young sons - until an ordinary day in October when she steps into an elevator and meets Evan, a Hollywood playboy. They embark on a romance that is anything but ordinary… 

KINDLE NINJA (KN): Hi Wendy. Thanks for agreeing to participate in this madness I call a joint review. I would normally offer you milk & cookies, but this particular segment has no budget…

WENDY STORER (WS): Outrageous! Did my agent know about this when she booked me?  I can’t work without food…

KN: Between Octobers by A.R. Rivera. I suggested this book because when I had a “Look Inside” I was impressed at the quality of writing. I thought the opening chapter was brilliant.

WS: Me too. It’s a great start, full of intrigue and suspense to engage the reader; it certainly pulled me in and got me asking questions.

KN:  You immediately know something’s wrong on page 1.

WS: Yes, apart from the whole trapped in a box thing, I love the way the pregnancy is underplayed at this point – it’s just a bump – because that ups the stakes immediately.

KN: We meet Grace Zuniga (or Gracie) in a state of panic, and practically defenceless. As the story progresses (or backtracks), we get to know her better. What did you think of Gracie?

WS: I wanted to like her, because you certainly feel for her, and for the most part I did, but I am not convinced Gracie is well enough developed as a character; we only learn things about her as it is required in the plot. It feels a little as if the author is making her up as she goes along, rather than her being a real person. For example, she tells us Grace is a frequent runner (when she is running away from her captor) but we don’t see any evidence of this beforehand. She tells us she is a nurse and later she does charity work, but we hardly see any evidence of this in her story. Her children seem to come and go without issues of child care being evident, Ronnie doesn’t even get a mention until he’s needed on set (as it were), the dog dies and no one questions it, a new dog arrives out of nowhere and it’s just accepted…I don’t have a really clear picture of Gracie’s life and when new things kept popping up, conveniently, it annoyed me.

KN: I don’t particularly look for set up for every character or situation, because honestly, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of them. If they were mentioned in passing and they aren’t critical to the storyline, I think that’s forgivable. However, if someone or something is crucial to the resolution and there was no proper set up, that will annoy me.

I actually like Gracie. Not a very complex character, but interesting. I thought the background provided was enough for me to like her, anything more would just be filler.

WS: I hear what you’re saying, but things like the running (for example) – if you know this is something Grace has up her sleeve, it could actually improve the reading experience. It’s about trusting the reader, and understanding what to give them and what to hold back. If we already knew that Grace was a runner, we’d be with her, one step ahead of her captor; instead of which, I was just, so she can run? How convenient.

What about Evan? Did you like him? At first, I found him a little too good to be true, bordering on creepy, and I questioned his motives. But he had hidden depths and I had to re-evaluate as the story progressed.

KN: I thought Evan was a little more complex than Gracie, but he was only interesting to me when he was with Gracie. They were good together. I thought the “toilet” scene was hilarious (could just be me though lol).

WS: Yeah, I liked that one too. Actually I thought the way Evan’s fame was handled was pretty good generally; it made for a lot of dramatic tension.

KN: Did you like any other particular scene/situation?

WS: The birth scene springs to mind – such an awful ‘place’ (emotionally, mentally, physically) to be, that you’re with Gracie all the way. I don’t want to give any spoilers – but let’s just say, this scene is packed with tension and I did actually cry! (I know, I’m a wuss.)

KN: What did you think of the narrative structure?

WS: I found the present tense narrative – for present and past events – quite limiting. Present tense was absolutely right for the kidnap chapters of the book, but NOT for the lead up/past chapters.

The first person point of view also meant that we are in Gracie’s head too much.

KN: I felt that the internal monologue slowed down the pace of the story considerably, which diminished the suspense. Had the author cut down on those, the switching from past to present events would have been more effective, with more sense of urgency.

WS:  Totally agree with you. But I did love the way we kept returning to this kidnap story line all the way through. It was the exciting/action part of the story and kept me reading to see who it was who had kidnapped Grace and how it was all going to work out.

Towards the end, the chase thing is gripping and I loved the way the past and present came together.

KN: Did you guess who the kidnapper was?

WS: Not until it was obvious. There were too many ‘possibles’, with too few clues as to who s/he actually was. When it is obvious, it’s better – more tense, more exciting, more believable – but again, I felt that the author lacked trust in her writing (and in the reader) and threw in too many red herrings as to who the kidnapper could have been. Did you get the same feeling of frustration?

KN: The first time that character was introduced, my ninja sense started tingling. I sensed the character will do something sinister. But I quickly dismissed the thought as it was still very early in the story. So I still enjoyed the chase and red herrings.

Did you like the ending?

WS: Yes and no. Yes, because it was unexpected and shocking. No, because it was unexpected and shocking! But also because I just thought it went on too long; it could have ended much sooner and had more impact.

KN: I wished it ended differently.

How would you rate ‘Between Octobers’ as a debut novel?

WS: I wanted more action and to get out of Gracie’s head and experience something concrete, if you see what I mean…but because the concept was good and the overall structure and plot were really good, (plus I did enjoy it)…I’d give it 4 stars. What about you?

KN: I love the character of Gracie. I like her interaction with other characters. The first few chapters were very engaging and the suspense held my interest. The only problem was that there were lengthy interior monologues that served little to no plot function. The beauty of the set up was lost. BUT I was already so heavily invested in the character that it was difficult to disengage.

I give ‘Between Octobers’ 4 stars.

WS: Hooray, then we agree! Can I get some food now, please?

The Kindle Ninja is a seasoned book reviewer, and you can read lots of reviews by him/her over at his/her blog.