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!