Book Review – Dreamer by Ja-Mel Vinson

Rating: 1/5 Stars

I was given an ARC of this novel by the author in exchange for an honest review. This review will be spoiler-free. 

An author is not their book. I say this because, from the few interactions I had with Vinson while requesting this ARC, he was a very sweet guy. I have nothing but respect for him and his passion for storytelling. This is what makes it exceptionally hard for me to give this novel a negative review. However, I feel that neglecting to review it would be dishonest and a disservice to those who might be considering picking this novel up.

To me, Dreamer felt like a compelling story idea whose execution, unfortunately, failed on almost all fronts. Though I tried my hardest to make it all the way through the novel, I finally had to stop when I hit the 50% mark because I knew nothing would be able to salvage this novel. Now, that’s not to say Vinson is a horrible writer with no promise. Rather, I feel like this was a failed first attempt at publishing that I hope he’ll learn and grow from.

My biggest qualm by far with this novel was the structure. After doing a little digging, I learned that Vinson forewent a developmental edit, and I feel that it shows. This book read like a puzzle whose pieces were all jumbled up; if someone had just worked with him to rearrange the pieces, they could have formed a nice picture. Instead, though, the story was left feeling choppy and confusing at the best of times.

Speaking of confusing, I have to say that I was so lost when it came to the magic system and world building in this novel. Now, I’m a big science fiction and fantasy nerd, so complex systems and worlds don’t normally cause me issue. Here, though, nothing felt fully explained. Or, if things were explained, they were the things that didn’t really matter. And every bit of information felt like it was being dumped on me, rather than fed to me organically through action, dialogue, and plot. I’m sure there were some things I just missed because I was so busy trying to keep straight what little I did understand, but for the most part I feel that Vinson didn’t completely grasp what things were necessary for readers to know right out of the gate and which things could be left for later in the novel.

Pacing was also a big issue, though that sort of ties in with the structure problem. Whenever I talk about pacing in these reviews, I always tend to praise books that keep their pacing up and don’t let their novel sag. This was the first time, however, that I read a book where I felt the metaphorical rope was too taut. There were very few breaks between moments of action or info-dumping, and after getting through one chapter I felt exhausted and ready to take a break from reading. Not to mention that, because of this, the tension also suffered. Seconds after a problem was posed, it was solved. This happened multiple times within chapters, and gave me some minor whiplash. To me, it seems clear that this book could have benefited from slowing down and letting major events occur less frequently in order to make those events feel like they actually meant something.

Another problem I had was with the characters. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t care about any of them. I wanted to, but I just didn’t. Maya, the main character, had very little agency and mostly had things happening to her, rather than making things happen for herself. And the rest of the characters were just… there. Some had more notable personalities than others, but for the most part they were all so bland that I got them confused or forgot they existed altogether. I think this could have been helped by slowing down and giving the reader some down time with these characters in order to foster more of an emotional attachment to them.

I also found issue with the writing itself. A lot of the dialogue came off as bland and robotic, and any imagery that was included was jumbled and hard to follow. Also, scene and chapter transitions were jarring and awkward, and it seemed like Vinson had a bit of an allergy to pronouns (most notably, instead of calling the character Rosemary “she” or “her”, he had a habit of addressing her as “[Maya’s] roommate,” “the Dreamer,” and “the girl”). All of this, though, was minor in the grand scheme of things. If these had been the only problems in this book, I could have given it a much higher rating.

I’d like to reiterate, though, that I don’t think Vinson is a horrible writer. I think his story ideas are interesting and that, with a bit more practice and maybe some lessons, he could write some amazing things. I just think this is a case of self-publishing gone wrong. It’s easy for new writers to cut corners and make mistakes when they don’t have to answer to anyone but themselves during the publishing process. But, with the help of some more honest and skilled critique partners and beta readers, a professional developmental editor, and perhaps a few more years of experience under his belt, I think he could write something really great.

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Are We Cutting Self-Published Authors Too Much Slack?

Recently, I was given an ARC of a soon-to-be-released self-published novel to read and review. And I was excited to do so. In fact, I was the one who contacted the author asking for the ARC, because the concept seemed interesting and like something I’d love to read. Unfortunately, my experience reading the book was… less than fun. It was so flawed in so many ways that, at fifty percent of the way through my read, I had to stop.

This left me in an uncomfortable position: Should I review the book or not? I felt torn, because the author had been so sweet to me during our few interactions, and because it felt like maybe I was critiquing his book too harshly. After all, it was self-published. That meant he didn’t have a team behind him to help him make his book shine and shimmer. So should I really be holding him and his book to the same standard as I hold traditionally published books and authors?

Then, I stopped and I realized that people like me are part of the problem. I realized that if we let books like this pass without honestly critiquing them, we’re basically ensuring that self-publishing will never be taken seriously. I mean, self-publishing is notorious for half-baked novels getting put out into the world before they’re ready. And if we say, “Oh, well, it’s bad because it’s self-published, so we should be less critical of it”, we’re only making things worse. I mean, Jenna Moreci’s novel The Savior’s Champion is proof that, when done right, a self-published book can be just as well-made as a traditionally-published book.

I’m not saying Moreci’s book is perfect, but neither are most traditionally-published novels. What it is is well-structured and written, with no glaring grammatical flaws, and a well-developed world and characters. It doesn’t feel like an amateur wrote it, or like someone tried to save a buck by foregoing a necessary step of editing. It is, essentially, the same quality as your average traditionally-published novel. And that’s what I want from all of the novels I read.

So, I’ve decided to write a review. I plan to be as nice about it as I can, because I understand that the author is a person and that being rude or mean is completely unnecessary, but I don’t plan on holding back on my critiques. My personal standard for self-published books is for them to feel professionally made, and from now on, that’s the standard I will hold them to. And I encourage all of my fellow book reviewers to do the same.

Don’t give a self-published book four or five stars just because you feel bad and are trying to be nice, or because you think it’s okay that it’s poorly written because it’s self-published. Don’t avoid writing a review at all just because you can’t think of anything positive to say about the book. Not only are you doing the author a disservice by letting them think their book is flawless when it isn’t, but you’re also doing potential readers a disservice by not warning them about what they’re getting themselves into. And you’re doing the self-publishing industry a disservice by letting sub-par novels pass without even a slap on the wrist.

What do you guys think? Does it seem to you like we’re giving self-published authors too much slack? Or do you feel like I’m wrong, and that they shouldn’t be held to the same standard as traditionally-published authors? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review – Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Rating: 5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review.

I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I LOVED this book. Seriously. There was just something about it that resonated with me in a way that a book hasn’t really done in a long, long time. From the story concept to the characters to the writing, it was all amazing. Honestly, this book hadn’t even been on my radar until I started writing my own novel about superheroes and villains, and I’d decided to check out a few books in the genre. I’m so glad I found it, though, because I’m in love.

Anyway, gushing aside, let’s get into this review.

This book had everything I love to see in novels, the most important of which being amazing characters. The two leads, Nova and Adrian, were so fun to follow. Nova being a kick-ass villain and Adrian being a too-pure-for-this-world hero led to some great moments between the two of them and between them and the other characters in the book. The juxtaposition between their personalities really led to the story feeling dynamic, and I enjoyed getting to follow both of their points of view throughout the novel.

The side characters were equally lovable, both on the side of the Anarchists and the Renegades (aka the villains and the heroes). Every character felt complex, and I grew attached to most of them almost immediately. Adrian’s patrol team specifically made me grin every time they were on the page, and I loved their relationship with Nova.

Another thing I loved in this book was the romances. I liked them because they didn’t overshadow the main plot, but rather accented it nicely. There were a lot of moments between different characters that left me squealing and grinning like an idiot, reminding me why I don’t read books in public.

The world building was also great. With so many layers and so much history, it would’ve been easy for this world to be a jumbled mess, but Meyer did a wonderful job at making sure everything made sense and was explained thoroughly to the reader. Sometimes, with fantasy worlds like this, there can be a lot of plot holes when it comes to how powers work or where they come from. Meyer, however, leaves no hole unfilled, which I was glad to find. There were some questions left unanswered, of course, but it was made very clear that these were for mystery purposes and not because Meyer was dropping the ball.

The last thing I loved about this book (that I can talk about without getting into spoilers, at least) was the pacing. The story always felt like it had a forward momentum, even in the moments when not much was happening. Whether we were focusing on the main plot or romantic subplot at any given moment, there was always tension that kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next.

My only real complaint about this book is really just a personal preference thing, and it’s so small I didn’t even bother to count it toward my overall rating. But what I really wanted from this book, more than anything, was more Adrian chapters! It was clear that Meyer’s main focus in this novel was on Nova and her story, but I really wanted to see some of the big, important moments from Adrian’s POV instead of Nova’s. Especially some of the romantic moments. But, again, this was a very small and personal complaint.

Overall, I thought this book was a joy to read. It’s fun and action-packed, with lots of complex characters and a great plot line. I’d recommend this book to any and everybody, but especially to fans of the superhero genre.

Shelving My Book (And Why It Was A Great Idea)

I wrote a book. It wasn’t the first book I’d ever written, but it was the first book I’d taken seriously. And I didn’t just write it. I wrote it, and then revised it, and revised it again, and then rewrote it, and revised it, and then queried it, and then rewrote it, and then revised it… I did everything I could to get that book onto the shelves, and I was planning to keep doing everything I could to get it onto the shelves. It was my baby, after all. The book of my heart. I knew and loved those characters like the back of my hand.

But then, a few weeks ago, I decided to stop.

Full stop. Dead halt. No more revisions or rewrites. I was actually already five chapters in on another rewrite. But then I decided that wasn’t the right course of action, because it wasn’t getting me anywhere. It was like I was on a hamster wheel, running and running but never making any headway. Sure, my book was getting better… but as my book got better, my relationship with it became strained. I loved it, but the thought of working on it caused me stress and misery, rather than joy. I was drowning in self doubt. I tried working on other, newer projects simultaneously with it, in the hopes of keeping things semi-fresh, but it didn’t work. Instead, I was hit by the hardest bout of writer’s block I’d ever experienced. It was miserable. I was miserable.

That was when I decided I was done. Enough was enough. And I am so glad I made that decision.

It took a little while to get used to. I had to force myself to stop thinking about it, to stop opening the document. But once I finally managed to leave it be, the creative floodgates opened. Suddenly, my writer’s block disappeared. I got a great idea for one of the novels I’d been writing, and I went with it. I sat down and wrote over 3,000 words in two days! 10,000 words in a week! And now I’m almost at 20,000 words! On another novel, which had been stalled at about 27,000 words for months, I’m now at 33,000 words! I mean, holy cow! Now that’s what I call progress.

And I know I wouldn’t be experiencing this kind of success in my writing now if I hadn’t let that first novel go. If I hadn’t put it away and decided to focus on my new projects. Yes, it hurt to do. It felt like a betrayal, and I had a lot of doubts and fears about doing so at first. I’d been so sure that it would be my debut novel, and the idea of letting go of that dream was scary and sad. But now I know, without a doubt, that it was the right choice. Shelving that book gave me the freedom to move on and love my other projects with the same passion as I’d loved that book. To give them the same kind of hope that they might be my debut novels as I’d given it.

This doesn’t mean I’m shelving it forever, though. For those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while, and who have cheered me on through the ups and downs of writing The Caspian Chronicles, I don’t want you to fear that it was all for naught. I will pick that book–that series–up again, and I will publish it if it’s the last thing I do. I love that story so much, and it’s a story I know needs to be told. But for now, I need a break. For now, I need to set it aside.

It wasn’t an easy lesson to learn, but it’s one I’m glad to have learned all the same. And I’d like to know: Have any of you had to shelve a project? How did that make you feel, and how did you deal with doing so? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Book Review – Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review.

Hype is a strange beast. On the one hand, it can get you pumped up for a book that then meets or exceeds your expectations, and you get a certain high from enjoying a book that others have enjoyed. On the other hand, it can give you unrealistic expectations for a book that then doesn’t meet those expectations, and then you’re bummed because you really thought you would love that book. My experience with Scythe was of the later variety.

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Book Review – Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review.

If I had to summarize this book in only one word, it would be “clever.” I mean, how many Cinderella retellings are there in the world? About a million, if I had to guess. But this one really stood out from the crowd, and I had a great time reading it. So, with that said, let’s jump into this review!

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Five Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Writing Books

  1. Looking in the mirror is just like reading your WIP for the millionth time. You know the story, so now all that’s left for you to do is nitpick. You start to doubt yourself. To see the flaws. But, to others, you’re something unique. Maybe you are flawed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be a bestseller, or someone’s favorite book. In the end, you truly are your own worst critic, and the best thing you can do is learn to stop overthinking and just love yourself.
  2. It’s okay to restart. Just like with your manuscript, if you’re not happy with what you’ve written in the past, you can start over. You can change your mind about what to study in college. You can decide to find a new job. You can choose to grow and be a better person. Your life is your story to rewrite however you want.
  3. You can’t worry about what other people have accomplished, or compare your journey to their successes. Doing this is like comparing your WIP to a published novel. Just because you’re not there yet, doesn’t mean you won’t get there. And, until you do, you’ve got to enjoy where you’re at and take in every experience along the way. After all, the journey is half the fun!
  4. You have to let the story of your life surprise you sometimes. Because, no matter how hard you try, you can’t outline every little thing that’ll happen in your life. Things will pop up that you weren’t expecting, and sometimes the best thing you can do is roll with it and see what amazing new doors they can open up.
  5. You need to write your life story for yourself, and not for anyone else. Because, the simple fact of the matter is that you can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, someone will doubtlessly have a problem with it. But so long as you are happy and fulfilled, it won’t matter if you get negative reviews every once in a while.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

My worst personality trait has always been my need for instant gratification. If I don’t get the thing I want the second I want it, I go berserk. Not in the crazy, screaming, throwing things way (well, maybe once or twice), but in the frantic, anxiety-riddled way. If I see something I really want to buy, I’ll think about it night and day until I finally get it. If I set a goal for myself, I’ll let it consume me and get down on myself if I don’t accomplish it right away. And if I develop a crush on a guy, I’ll go crazy thinking about him, wanting him to be my boyfriend without the fuss of having to flirt with and impress him.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Use Your Scenes (And Use Them Well)

Scenes. I love ’em. I love reading them, and I love writing them. My favorite thing to do is sit down and write out a random scene from one of the many story ideas kicking around in my head. It’s almost like a stress reliever, and it’s a surefire way for me to push past any writer’s block I might have. However, during my time at Columbia College Chicago, I learned that, for some people, scenes are difficult to write. It shocked me to learn that some people actually prefer summary to scene. I mean, don’t get me wrong, summary can be a great tool. We all know that not every moment in a story needs to be a scene. The last thing I want is a step-by-step account of how a character gets ready in the morning. But to write a story entirely in summary? Well, I’d argue that’s not really a story at all.

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