Thursday, June 25, 2015

My First Bad Review

You might remember that I was planning to start reviewing books and posting the reviews on my new website. Well, my website will be ready soon, but as for now, I’ll post my first review here. I'm not going to give negative reviews to fellow indie authors who will contact me for a review. My aim is to support the newbies, not spoil their book pages with negative reviews. But I'll post negative reviews to those books that I pick at random. And though I don't like it, but my first review is going to be a negative one.

I have to admit I’ve been fooled. Fooled by Amazon reviews. I have long stopped paying attention to reviews, because you never know if they are genuine or not, but this time I stumbled upon a book in the mystery section, which had more than 1000 positive reviews, and very few negative ones. And I thought it had to be something special. One click, and it smoothly appeared on my kindle. And after the first few chapters I had to force myself to keep reading. Sadly, I’m one of those readers who always have to finish the book. And then, I was genuinely curious why that book was so highly rated. It was a huge compilation of clichés and overused themes.
Here we go:

Title: Silent Scream

The plot: the story begins with a woman's murder. A few seconds before she's killed she looks the murderer in the eyes (the murderer was wearing a mask) and recognizes her killer. Before I go on, let me say that when the murderer's identity is revealed I couldn't understand how that first victim recognized her killer. It was totally unbelievable. Investigation begins and we meet the protagonist, Detective Kim. A plain, unlikable character. But I’ll talk of the characters later. Then another murder happens. And then another. And slowly, that chain of murders goes into the past (10 years), to the night when something insidious happened at a girls' orphanage. A lot of minor inconsistencies bugged me, but there's one I want to mention. Bodies of murdered girls are discovered around the burnt orphanage. Somewhere in the book we learn that one of the murdered teen girls was pregnant. 20-25 weeks. Well, that's at least five months, right? Then, during the investigation it is revealed that no one knew she was pregnant. Let me ask how? How can you not see that a 15-year-old skinny girl is pregnant?

The characters: too many, all of them underdeveloped. Blurred. Sometimes I couldn't tell one from the other. None had a distinctive voice, none had a character. The protagonist was a beggar. Throughout the book she was begging for my sympathy. She had had a tough childhood, she had a psychotic mother, she had been living in foster homes. I’ve met a lot of characters with hard lives, but this one was begging me to feel sorry for her. And it made me feel less sorry, because her pain was artificial, meant to squeeze emotions out of me. You don’t force a reader to feel something. You tell the story and let the reader relate to the character.
The murders were supposed to be gruesome, and well, they were, but I was constantly told about it. How crazy the killer was, what a bastard, what a psychopath... So much that when the next body was discovered I already knew I would now be once again told how crazy the killer was. But he was a lame antagonist. The chapters with his inner monologue were boring and cliché-driven.
When the identity of the murderer was revealed, I couldn't care less. I was totally unimpressed. The first thing I thought was, "Yeah, and so what?" The antagonist should leave at least a bit of impact on the reader. But not this time.

The writing: amateur. Sometimes it read like a 2nd draft. Kim always felt everything with her gut, constantly nodded her agreement and nodded her thanks. Everything was galvanized. There was too much telling instead of showing. Throwing in some medical details and phrases to seem smart.

The POV: third person unlimited. It means that we don't just follow the protagonist (the detective) while she's solving the murders; we also see what every other secondary character does or thinks, and those chapters are very short, like movie scenes. This is a personal thing, but I don't like such short chapters that try to disclose why this or that secondary character did or said certain things. To me masterful storytelling is letting the reader see everything through the eyes of the protagonist while she’s discovering it all.

The narration: I’m still thinking about how to explain my thoughts and feelings on this. The narration was biased, one-sided. When the book is told from the 3rd person point of view I expect it to spare me the narrator's principles and views. Not here. I can understand the character's inner monologue, but I don't need the narrator to tell me who's evil and who's not. I don't need the narrator to tell me if the murder victims deserved death or not. I can decide it myself, if the narrator gives me enough backstory. There was a disabled girl in the story, and I lost the count of how many times the narrator told me that she was strong, that she was a fighter, that she was courageous. I hate being told of things. The few scenes with the girl were enough to show her courage, it didn't have to be shoved down my throat that she was disabled, but hadn't lost her vigor.
I think the book was been written in the 1st person POV, but the author had to change it later, to include the scenes with other characters' POVs. It would explain a lot.

And the clichés! A detective with a harsh past. Her loyal sidekicks (made of carbon). People connected by a shady past dying one after the other.


Two killers acting apart. A character who, 60 seconds before dying, turns into a religious fanatic and begins mentioning God as his sidekick. OK, he was a priest, but that dialogue was so out of nowhere. It was like the author thought what else she could include in the book, then said, "Hey, what if he's not just a psycho, but also a religious fanatic!"


Also, there were missing words and commas, requiring me to read the sentences again to understand what they meant.

Overall, I’m not impressed with this book. It bored me to tears and made me roll my eyes not once. The twist wasn't bad, but I've already seen that same twist many times in Hollywood movies; it was just OK. And I wouldn't write so much if it wasn't so highly rated. Maybe it's me? If you look at my Goodreads page you'll see that I haven't been happy with my recent picks. Maybe it's just a black bar in my life, when I don't like anything I read? I have to admit I learned writing in English reading authors like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and George Martin. Few authors write like them. So maybe my expectations are always high?

It's hard to criticize a book when you're an author, too. There’s always the fear of being called a bad sport, being accused of envy. But I don't want to be a hypocrite and praise every book I read just because I’m a writer, too. While I won't post negative reviews for the books by newbie authors, I don't think that my negative review will harm a successful, established writer. Hence, this review. I didn't like this book at all, but I wish the author success and a million sales.

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