This Week, I Read… (#15)

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#35 – The Last Chronomancer, by Reilyn J. Hardy

  • Read: 4/6/16 – 4/12/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback ARC courtesy of the author)
  • Challenge: ReadsTheBooks 2016 Reading Challenge; also, #readselfpublished month
  • Task: Read a book about an LGBTA character
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

An interesting but often frustrating read.

The good: Fascinating characters with loads of personality, including the aro-ace protagonist–I never felt like the orientation of the character was belabored or brought up at an awkward or inopportune moment. Lots of well-paced action, too, which helped moved the story along.

The bad: IT’S SO WORDY.

Now, I realize I got an uncorrected proof, so I can safely ignore the little things like misplaced commas and spelling errors and all that, but I can’t see the story going from proof-stage to publication and getting the kind of heavy editing it would take to fix this problem.

I’d like to share a quote that exemplifies the style of the novel:

I had to move quickly and I didn’t even think my actions through — I didn’t have time to think about my actions. I only had time to act.

I ran toward the Witchfen…

Twenty eight words across two sentences in that first paragraph, one simple and one compound. Feels repetitive, doesn’t it? Especially when the point is the lack of time. If I were the editor:

With no time to think or plan, I had to move fast.

I ran toward the Witchfen…

I managed the same message with twelve words (less than half the original) in one sentence. And the whole book is that way, heavy on adverbs and repetition and stage direction. Earlier in the book, it takes half a page for a character to wake up and get out of bed. I’ll admit, that made me cringe.

Another problem I found was a lack of cohesive world-building. The prologue introduces elements from Greek mythology, specifically the Gorgons (all three by name, even) and characters with the names Apollo and Artemis. But then as the story progresses, we get dragons that apparently look exactly like humans except for their eyes (I’ll come back to that), vampires, werewolves, drowned hags, and winged horses (okay, Pegasus, that’s Greek again, but they stay called “winged horses” or just “horses”). And by page 128, when the first “new” creature is introduced (the Witchfen Worm), there’s never any explanation given for why all of these vastly dissimilar creatures exist in the same mythical world. And the Worm is the first one that’s physically described in any meaningful way.  Okay, I guess we can assume a lot of things about vampires and werewolves, and there’s some loose description of the hag, but the Dragon King is essentially human when we meet him, early on–he’s got feet and elbows and hairy legs. So why is he constantly referred to as a dragon? How does that work, and why couldn’t that be explained right away?

Oh, yeah, and apparently there’s elves, too, because then we get introduced to a half-elf. Who has a distinctly Japanese name and wields dual sai, a traditional Japanese weapon. So there’s Japan in this world? Is that where the elves are from?

Which brings me to how there’s very little sense of place. Names of places are just that–names, with no history or description attached, no map in the front leaf to look at in order to orient the reader (okay, self-publishing makes that more difficult, I get it,) and little or no context for understanding why the characters are going there, want to go there, or are discussing the location. But even the places in the story that aren’t far-off lands don’t have a lot of distinguishing features. Mae’s house is…a house? And Newacre is…a village? With a marketplace. And there’s a forest nearby. I can fill in a lot of detail on my own from box-standard fantasy settings I’m already familiar with, but that means this world looks like every other box-standard fantasy world.

And I wanted more than that.

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#36 – The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

  • Read: 4/13/16 – 4/15/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover, though the jacket was missing when I picked it up used)
  • Challenge: PopSugar 2016 Reading Challenge
  • Task: Read a book that’s becoming a movie this year
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Okay, more of a 2.5 stars, but I did really enjoy it at the beginning, so I’ll give it the half-star for what could have been.

All I knew going into this was that it was one of the most-hyped books of 2015, and like many hyped books, it was polarizing. People adored it or hated it.

I’m more . . . disappointed. Because the book I read was not as-advertised. It’s not a thriller. It’s hardly even a mystery. (I figured out who did it well before the reveal, not because of carefully laid clues, but because of a proliferation of obvious red herrings. By process of elimination, the person the narrative suspected least must be the one responsible, and lo and behold, I was right.)

I’m not a fan of amnesia as a plot device, but in this case, at least, there was plausibility–the main character is a heavy drinker prone to blackouts. That being said, the story relies heavily on this; the only reason there’s a mystery at all is because she can’t remember what happened on the night of the incident. The way the plot unravels from there could have been interesting, but it really feels like a checklist of proposing one suspect, then eliminating him, and then maybe bringing him back again while we’re also moving on to the next one…it’s tedious.

So why did I like it at all? Strong character development. The three women who are granted POV throughout the story are all deeply flawed people, horrible in their own ways, but they’re incredibly distinct for three different first-person narratives. (One of the flaws in multiple first-person POV works I take issue with is that the characters all feel the same, and these didn’t, not at all.)

The writing style felt amateurish, mostly because it was stuffed to the gills with filler words. (I have those on the brain lately as I prep for the techinical edit of novel #2.) I find filler more forgivable in first-person than third, because some filler words are necessary to establish character voice, but this was another wordy novel this week.

And the one I’m starting today, well, it’s over 500 pages, so wish me luck…

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5 thoughts on “This Week, I Read… (#15)

  1. I wonder how I’d feel about The Girl on the Train if I had read it in English. I read it in translation and I rather enjoyed the writing style but that might end up being the translator’s skill!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Since I don’t speak a second language fluently enough to read in it (much, anyway, I did take a stab at French literature back in my college days), I’ve actually always wondered about that. There’s a series I read in translation years ago, and I tried to reread it but the writing was really dry the second time around, so I wondered if it read better originally.

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  2. Props for smart reviews of these two books, definitely from a writer’s perspective, which is how I tend to review books, too. The Last Chronomancer has an intriguing title! I enjoy elegant prose, but wordiness is problematic and makes me think, “Just tell the story already!” Reading good writing definitely makes us better writers, but weak writing teaches us things, too, for sure. Good luck with technical edit #2!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure, at this point, I could untangle my writer-brain from my reader-brain, and I wouldn’t want to. Since I made the decision to take my writing seriously, I’ve definitely noticed I’m more critical of the books I read.

      Not that I don’t occasionally drown my writer-brain in a cheesy romance or two, but I still see how bad they are…I just read them anyway!

      Liked by 1 person

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