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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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.

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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