It would be perfect if the little evil face were gray & white but it's close enough!
A friend who is a big fan of youth sports recently made an effort to help a young man achieve his expressed goal of a college scholarship. Letters were written, phone calls were made. An independent coach was engaged to offer a private skills assessment. Specialized training was arranged, as well as participation in limited-enrollment clinics. This friend spent a small amount of his own cash, but solicited others to make donations. Most of the friend's contribution was time and the value of many years' connections in the youth sports arena.
After all this, the young athlete blew it off. He skipped training sessions, and even dismissed a tutor hired to help him bring up his academic grades. No scholarships were ever offered; the potential college athlete dropped out of high school two months before graduation.
The friend was devastated at first, then outraged. He couldn't understand how this young man could fail to be appreciative that so many people were willing to help him get the scholarship he himself said he wanted.
"Now you know how I feel every time I've offered to help a writer improve their writing and then been stabbed in the back for it."
We do this sort of thing out of the goodness of our hearts, in a sense. I enjoy writing and I enjoy reading good writing, so there's a sense that other writers would want the same thing. Furthermore, there's a desire to raise the quality of writing in general, especially in these days of digital self-publishing. My friend, who was an athlete in his own youth, wanted to bring this young man the same sense of accomplishment and achievement.
But the return on the emotional investment ends up being a total loss, and it's depressing and discouraging. There's some consolation to be taken from the fact that it doesn't happen just in the writing game, but it's not much.
Deadly Deceit by Rose M. Brate is not a promising young athlete. Nor is it a promising self-published novel.
Here's the Amazon Kindle listing, the first thing the potential reader sees:
The $6.99 Kindle price is a bit high, but maybe the author has enough sales and recognition to justify it. I'm not sure what the book's Kindle Unlimited pages are, because the spacing seems a bit expanded, generating more pages than the word count might otherwise warrant. Supposedly Amazon has a way to balance this, but if Brate's 304-page "book" brings in the average Kindle Unlimited royalty, that payment should be around $3.00 per copy read. Royalties on the $6.99 sales price would be approximately $4.50.
None of it, of course, makes that "head-over-heals" typo any less glaring.
I downloaded the free sample. I had no great expectations, with all apologies to Mr. Dickens.
There's no front matter, a flashing neon sign that this is an author-published project. My expectations dropped a little lower.
The blurb on Amazon was about Jack and Abby Morrison; that's not how the book opens.
So, who is this story about? The Morrisons or this detective?
At this point, I as a reader and as a reviewer -- a merciless one -- knew that whatever qualities the story might have were deeply buried under lackluster and possibly just plain bad writing. Invoking the Josh Olson protocol, I proceeded without hesitation.
Let's look at that opening page under a magnifying glass:
Detective DeMarko ducked beneath the yellow police tape surrounding the twelve-story building of Morrison Advertising. The entire block had been closed off, since it was an official crime scene. Squad cars lined the block, drawing the unwanted attention of anyone within a two-block radius. She stood with her hands on her hips, taking in the scene as her partner, Jasper Reiner, approached, bitching about the weather.
“It’s a scorcher, boss,” Reiner complained, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“It is that,” DeMarko confirmed, heading toward the uniformed officer maintaining order.
Brate, Rose M (2017-11-13T22:58:59). Deadly Deceit (Kindle Locations 30-35). Kindle Edition.
We start with Detective DeMarko, who is not further identified. No first name, no physical description, so we don't even know if this official is male or female or whatever. Is this clever? Is it intentional? Is it sloppy writing? Hold that thought.
The yellow police tape automatically tells us this is a crime scene; the observation in the latter part of the second sentence is unnecessary. It's certainly not clever; it's sloppy.
What about the first part of that sentence? The yellow tape surrounds the building, but "the block" had been closed off. How large is the block? What's used to close it off? Vehicles? Police officers?
The third sentence gives some more information: police vehicles are lining "the block." We still don't know if these vehicles are sealing off the area, just that they're there.
They're drawing "unwanted" attention. Unwanted by whom? And why is that attention unwanted?
And why is it important that they draw unwanted attention from anyone in a "two-block" radius? (Think about how awkward that is, since radius implies a circle, presumably centered on the tape-surrounded building, which would itself block at least part of that circle. Words have meaning.)
Now comes the big jolt: "She stood with her hands on her hips."
Aha! So, is our detective a woman? If we didn't already suspect that, or have an image of a woman in our reader's imagination, we've been stopped cold while we alter that mental image. The first sentence with no description of DeMarko is probably intentional, but it may not be quite so clever, because it has forced the reader to reassess the vision created by the opening words. It has pulled the reader out of the story, when instead that opening should drag the reader in, further and further with every word.
There are four sentences in the opening paragraph. Three of those sentences contain present participial phrases; one of them contains two. This is lazy, sloppy, unpolished writing.
Do most readers care? The honest answer has to be, "No, most don't care. Most don't notice. Most don't know enough to notice."
By the end of the first paragraph, we know that Detective DeMarko is a woman, but we don't know her first name. We do, however, know her partner's first and last name. We also know that he's bitching about the weather. Author Brate has clearly told us what Reiner is doing.
Even though she has already told us Reiner is complaining about the weather, the very next sentence repeats the information. That participial phrase "bitching about the weather" is telling, and it's completely unnecessary when the author shows the same information in Reiner's dialogue.
But Reiner calls DeMarko "boss," even though he's been identified as DeMarko's partner, not her subordinate. After the very first sentence left DeMarko's gender unknown, now the relationship between her and Reiner is uncertain.
The next sentence, which is the last on the first page of my Kindle sample, contains DeMarko's confirmation of Reiner's statement . . . and two more participial phrases.
This is just plain lousy writing. It's crap. Is there s good story under all those present participles? Maybe, but I don't care. I'm not going to wade through any more of this garbage.
There's no direct return for me on this investment of time. I didn't expect any. If someone reads this and benefits, then it's all to the good. If a writer learns to check her sentences for repetitions of present participles, if a reader learns to distinguish between good writing and bad, that's the very most I can hope for. The exercise in analysis, of taking apart a couple of paragraphs per the Josh Olson protocol, is my way of getting five cents on the dollar of my own investment elsewhere.
EDITED TO ADD:
I received a copy from Netgalley.
I must be a black sheep on this one. Most of the reviews I browsed through were fairly positive, there was a handful of one stars but no actual reviews. It caught my eye whilst browsing Netgalley because I like revenge themed books featuring famous people with glitz glamour and potential murder. When I looked it up on Goodreads and saw that the author was compared to the British equivalent of Jackie Collins that pretty much sealed the deal for me.
I thought it was one of the stupidest, most annoying books I have ever read.
I didn't find it glamorous or captivating or anything. The characters were unremarkable and annoying with maybe one exception and it was nearly 70% into the book before the reason all these people were brought together was finally explained. It started out okay, the frost problem I had with the book was that the review copy I was reading on my iPad kindle app had an appealing font which wouldn't go out of bold which annoyed the hell out of me. I ended up buying a finished copy with a sensible font I could read properly. At this point the book still had my attention to want to know the what was going on.
The premise was interesting enough, a bunch of people have been invited to the opening debut of a new snazzy restaurant by popular celebrity chef Dexter Franklin in St Tropez. It's all expenses paid as well. It becomes obvious immediately that bringing this particular group together is a disaster waiting to happen. It's also made clear right away that each person invited to the opening have history with Dexter and pretty bad history at that. The tag line hinted at murder so the interest for me was who do these annoying people is going to get bumped off first?
Two members of a former squeaky clean girl group Crazy Sour, who had a massive career as pop idols for teen girls until one of them, Holly, fell into drugs and drink and ruined the band and destroyed everyone's careers. Holly wound up becoming a high class prostitute and raked the cash in until she got caught up in a scandal with a politician and the whole thing came crashing down around her, again. She’s an utter bitch, out for number one and doesn't seem to give a fuck about anyone else other than herself. Of course, she's got a few secrets of her own which sort of explain her deplorable personality and the defensive attitude she displays. She had a hot fling with Dexter at some point and it didn't end well.
The other girl band member Mew, I got the impression was supposed to be the sensible smart one of the group. She and Holly rubbed each other the wrong way. There wasn't much mentioned about the third member of the band or there than she wasn't all there. I think the only reason she wasn't brought in on this little trip was she didn't have anything going on with Dexter. When Crazy Sour failed Mew made her fame and fortune by winning a celebrity cooking show hosted by Dexter. There was a big scandal when it was discovered that Mew was screwing Dexter behind the scenes. Mew went on to have her own cooking career and wrote best selling cookbooks. Mew brings her assistant/agent Olivia along on the trip complexly oblivious to the fact that Olivia is head over heels in love with her. Of course, neither Holly nor Mew know the other has been invited.
Leland Franklin, Dexter’s older brother. The two brothers never got along. Leland is actor who made his name as a hunky TV action adventurer star who thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread and God’s gift to women. A better than thou jerk who thinks the sun rises and sets on him, and completely unfaith to his supposed long term girlfriend. To the point where he brings some fame hungry American girl he picked up and has been screwing on the side, the girl who was notorious for having once been a hooker on the trip. Leland’s supposed actual girlfriend is a Brazilian actress Rosita Velazquez. She's a huge star in her own country and wants to break into other markets and she's convinced that dating Leland will raise her profile. She's outlandish and takes over the top to a whole new dimension. Neither knows that the other has been invited to Dexter’s restaurant opening. Rosita has her own complex history with Dexter.
Finally DC Riding, a restaurant critic. Openly gay and friendly DC is probably is the only likeable character amongst this lot. He had a failed try at producing a big broadway production. He's had some not so pleasant things to say about Dexter’s restaurants before. He’s into really kinky sex stuff as well and doesn't seem to care where it comes from and is quite happy to pay for it.
A few other minor characters are introduced who wind up having fairly decent rolls as the plot goes on.
The bulk of the novel is all these characters arriving in St Tropez and their reactions to each other. Which in the most case are not happy reunions. It's drama drama drama. They've all worked out there must be something going on. Dexter hasn’t made an appearance yet. Most of his chapters up to this point are reflections on his relations with the other characters and hints of something big that's going to happen. By this point I am bored to tears with the book. I lost interest in the drama between the characters, the bitch fest between Holly and Mew, Olivia pining over Mew, Rosita and her ridiculous attempts at making a name for herself, Leland who I despised right from the start and remember very little about. The only fun chapters were the ones from DC Riding.
Opening night approaches and the reasons for bringing these particular people together were finally revealed. Over 70% in and no ones been killed. What happened to the murder hinted at in the tag line and why is these thing called Revenge?
It turns out it's all involving a show girl Cher Le Visage. Dexter was madly in love with Cher, now Cher is dead and every person he has invited to the opening has a reason to want to kill Cher.
So…who did it? More secrets are revealed and more past information comes to light.
One thing I did actually like at the end was how the women came together to defend each other when found in a dicey situation with the killer.
Mew and Holly really came together and wound up with a new understanding and a budding friendship that allowed them to reconnect and come together in a way they hadn't before
Not enough to salvage the book for me, but something about it I actually liked.
There was a brief what happened afterwards conclusion detailing where each of the main characters when after the eventful opening night of Dexter's restaurant. Most of them had shown some sort of growth over the novel and some found new relationships, new friendships and new directions in life.
This wasn't a page turner for me, nor was it a gripping thriller at all. I found myself skimming a large portion of the middle. It had its moments but in the end just not for me. I’m not really interested at all in trying anything else by this particular author. Every now and then I try something different from my usual type of book but unfortunately this one wasn’t for me at all.
Thank you to Netgalley and Bookoture for approving my request to view the title.
I'm back on the couch with the heating pad, having messed up my back again. It's not nearly as bad this time as in the past, but I'm going to take it easy for at least a few hours.
Some comments on Twitter this morning got me to thinking about the whole issue of negative book reviews, and I'm not sure if I'm coming at this from the right direction. I almost dismissed my concerns until I went back and reread Debbie's comment on my earlier review here.
Lots of publicity enterprises making money generating positive reviews that illegally (on U.S. sites) don't disclose were reviewing for the publicity firm, for the author, for the publisher or as an exchange of reviews between authors or group of authors (FTC considers that a service received, I.e., payment the same as a cash fee). Always suspicious when a flurry of 4-5 star reviews are around release dates, promotions, blog tours or other events (or release date of still yet another new edition.
Yes, there are bloggers and semi-professional (getting free books) reviewers who only post positive reviews. We've been through this before. There are also the genuine consumers who leave reviews, sometimes honest, sometimes dishonest but kind. Authors, including Roger Hayden who wrote The Haunting of Saxton Mansion, often leave requests for reviews in the digital books themselves:
As an indie author, Amazon reviews can have a huge impact on my livelihood. So if you enjoyed the story please leave a review letting me and the rest of the digital world know. And if there was anything you found troubling, please email me. Your feedback helps improve my work, and allows me to continue writing stories that will promise to thrill and excite in the future. But be sure to exclude any spoilers.
I would love if you could take a second to leave a review: Click here to leave a review on Amazon!
Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 8053-8059). Kindle Edition.
(I won't comment on the dangling modifier in the opening sentence of the above snippet. Oh, I guess I just did. My bad.)
Because of Amazon's policies regarding reviews by other authors -- which are actually in line with FTC restrictions, too -- some of the more knowledgeable people about the quality of the writing are not permitted to express their opinions when the quality falls short. Negative reviews all too often attract reprisals and/or retribution, and thus honesty is discouraged. A culture has developed of "If you can't leave a positive review, don't leave any at all."
In some cases, it's justified/rationalized/excused by respect for the author's effort. "Even a badly written book required the writer's time and effort. I have to respect that."
My question, however, is this: What obligation does any reader have to refrain from expressing a negative opinion? And to whom is that obligation owed?
Years ago, I noticed what appeared to be a pattern of bad behavior by one of my son's teachers. When I spoke to other parents, they agreed that her actions were problematic, but they weren't willing to make a formal complaint. They didn't want to rock the boat or risk retaliation against their children. The teacher's behavior worsened, to the point that I finally took my concerns to the principal. I presented evidence of the teacher's blatant favoritism and her constant belittling and harassment of the students who weren't her favorites. The situation reached a crisis point with the principal (of a K-5 school!) calling me a lying bitch in front of a dozen students, and the teacher exploding in a temper tantrum at me in front of her entire class and most of the students' parents. Only later did I get an acknowledgement from the principal that yes, I was right and the teacher had shown grossly unfair favoritism. The problem was going to be addressed, but it was too late for too many students.
Is there some kind of equivalency between poor teaching techniques and poor writing? Probably not. So let me take it another notch higher.
Of the more than 150 young women who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, many reported his behavior over the decades of his abuse. Decades. Those young women, some of them really only girls, were either ignored, or not believed, or dismissed. Many others didn't even know that what he was doing to them was wrong, because no one told them. Many others said nothing because they knew they wouldn't be believed. Some even kept silent because they thought they themselves were somehow to blame! University officials knew, but for their own reasons they, too, chose silence. The governing body of the gymnastics sport also maintained silence. We don't yet know who else protected themselves and their own interests through silence, while hundreds of young people suffered.
Is there some kind of equivalency between sexual abuse of children and writing a lousy book? No, of course not. But is there some kind of equivalency between the silence with which many people treat the wrongdoing that they see in front of them?
Have we all developed a habit of self-preservation through silence?
"First they came for the _______________, but I said nothing because I was not a _______________."
When a book is badly written, when it has numerous typographical errors and misspellings and grammatical mistakes and factual inaccuracies, when it has gaping plot holes and character inconsistencies and logical impossibilities, what do we accomplish with our silence? Have we given that author an "A for Effort" trophy without even knowing if she/he made a sincere effort rather than just slapping something together and putting a 99-cent price tag on it? Are we just giving ourselves the protection of not having to say something bad about someone who has, essentially, done a bad thing?
If you've read through all this so far, I have something to add regarding the book that started it, The Haunting of Saxton Mansion as assembled in the collection Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset.
I had no intention of reading any more of either Roger Hayden's contribution or any of the other three stories in the set, but I did want to see if Hayden had included a request for reviews at the end of his section. As I skimmed through the Kindle pages, a few odd words caught my eye here and there, enough that curiosity prompted me to stop and read.
The Haunting of Saxton Mansion is composed of three "books." As I posted in my review of Book 0, the setting of the mansion itself is not logical and there are errors of fact (the Dom Perignon stuff), along with a lot of generic writing flubs.
But Book 0 opens with Gerald Saxton arriving home; Book 1 opens similarly, but some of the details have changed!
Cypress Creek, Florida
December 22, 1982
The fireplace crackled, casting dancing shadows on the wall. The tree in the corner filled the living room with a scent of fresh pine. Lights of green, red, blue, and orange were wrapped from its top to the base, along with silver tinsel and ornaments hanging from the branches. Christmas music played lightly from the stereo. An open bottle of red wine rested atop the coffee table near the black leather sofa where Gerald Saxton and his wife, Annette, sat, glasses in hand.
Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 2291-2296). Kindle Edition.
Same date as Book 0, same location, same characters. Okay, so the details regarding the Dom Perignon aren't there, and we've got a more generic red wine, but something didn't feel right as I skimmed across the Kindle pages.
Gerald had purchased their two-story three-bedroom, two-bath Victorian dream house from his father four years prior.
The gated property had a courtyard and fountain, a two-car garage, a large front deck, and even a tennis court. There wasn't a house quite like it for miles--and it was the only home on the narrow dead-end road known as Pennington Drive. Gerald and Annette loved their house and had spared no expense on renovations. The upkeep was, and would always be, a challenge, but that was to be expected with a house over twenty years old.
Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 2299-2303). Kindle Edition.
What the hell? The details are different! Now the house is over twenty years old, not twelve! Is Book 1 a revision of Book 0, or what?
Out of a curiosity that was now spiked with anger, I skipped ahead to Book 2.
Cypress Creek, Florida
December 23, 1982
It was past midnight. The lights were on in the Saxton mansion, an isolated estate at the end of a dead-end street. Shadowed flames from the fireplace danced against the living room wall. Outside, a black BMW sat parked next to the courtyard fountain, where water calmly flowed. A tennis court lay on the left side of the house under heavy shadow, its iron fence barely visible. A two-car garage sat housed on the other side, connected to a long driveway that ran down through the gated entrance.
There was no home quite like the Saxton mansion in the entire neighborhood. Isolated as it was, few ever ventured down Pennington Drive to see it. That night, danger was brewing inside, though nothing looked unusual from outside the gate. It was just another quiet evening in the small town of Cypress Creek, where an evil had descended upon the Saxton family.
The mansion’s elaborate Victorian architectural style included a wood exterior, arched roofs on both sides, and a tiny attic window in the center. The front porch had Christmas lights running along the railing and up the tall white columns that reached to the ceiling. The expansive front yard seemed limitless in its space, while the surrounding forest provided a sense of privacy and tranquility, shielding the mansion from view of the nearby homes that made up the neighborhood. For this reason alone, its seclusion, no one was aware of what was happening until it was too late.
That evening, the Saxtons had received two unexpected visitors. Gerald and Annette Saxton were enjoying the evening together in the living room as their children slept upstairs.
Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 4679-4692). Kindle Edition.
How much of each "Book" is a reiteration of the others? Is the opening just a summary of what happened in the previous books? If so, then why are the details different? How much is a recap, and how much is new material? Does the reader need to buy/read Book 0 and Book 1, or is the whole story contained complete in Book 2? I'm not inclined to read any further to find out. How many of the "reviews" on Amazon of each book are just empty but positive blathering about a product? I don't know. (Book 2 has far fewer reviews, but it was only released earlier this month.)
As a writer who truly does put effort into each of my works, I'm appalled that reviewers hold back on bad books. As a reader in search of good material, I'm frankly disgusted by those who spew out only positives for their own benefit and thereby prove their own indifference to their audience.
The gymnasts deserved a whole lot better. Don't reviewers owe readers honesty, at a bare minimum?
Seriously, it is okay. I am but one person in a sea of readers. Most of who probably have better taste than I! There is no need to come on over to my review (or anyone's) at Goodreads and tell me how much of an idiot you think I am. It will not change my opinion about the book but it may change someone's opinion about you. A bad review is also never a reason To Start A Petition to force Goodreads to change their TOS to suit you.
I love books, I love authors, I love to read, to review and I love nothing more than to spread the word about books. But I'm not always going to like your book. In fact, I will probably dislike at least one thing about it because I'm a bit of a jerk like that and that's okay too. There are very few books that I think are perfect.The first one that comes to mind is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It is my comfort read. I have read it numerous times and it always makes me feel magical.
I adore that weird book so much and, whoa, would you look at this!
Holy crap! Not everyone adores it nearly as much as I do. My favorite book in all the land has 1390 one star reviews. Bastards! Some of those one stars are even from my bastard friends who must not be following my review rules!! But I still love them dearly and respect the fact that they despise the best book ever written. We are all different and totally entitled to have our own opinion no matter how contrary or peculiar or inconceivable that opinion may be.
So here's a little reminder because some people out there in bookland seem to have forgotten this:
Negative reviews are NEVER a reason to freak out.
Mediocre reviews are NEVER a reason to freak out.
Five star reviews are NEVER a reason to freak out.
READER REVIEWS ARE NEVER A REASON TO FREAK OUT. PERIOD.
Because some people take this all a little too seriously, I'm going to give you a little insight into a book crazy persons head. Or maybe just a crazy person. It matters naught. Most of time I read reviews after I've finished a book and written my own review because I'm nosy and only really care about the last book I've just read. I'm self-centered like that. I like to see what others thought and how my thoughts match up. I bet many readers do the same. Some folks give reader reviewers way too much power.
I also, as a rule, pretty much only read my friends reviews of books I'm considering buying. I trust no one else. I've been burned too many times and from my example above I noticed even my friends can't totally be trusted! So while reviews are great fun to read I do not think they are the end all, be all, final word on a book, on book sales and on book exposure. Also, one reader review does not have the ability to "ruin" an authors career. That's just someone being dramatic.
Perhaps there are people who have the time to sit around doing nothing but reading all the reviews written by everyone ever and being all judgy but most of us are not that person. We have books to read. This is what always blows my mind when an author has a meltdown over a reader review. A negative review is not a big deal to me, nor to most other readers. It certainly won't stop me from buying something (though ALL five stars might). We buy based on many factors. Here's some free advice and it's totally worth what you're paying for it, on how to deal with a not-so-great, maybe not-so-nice review: Keep it to yourself! Forget you read it. Walk away. It's highly likely that very few people will even notice it! That's what I'd do were it me. Boohoo about it publicly, leave crappy comments on the review and maybe even threaten the reader with a lawsuit and you can bet we will all be running over to that review to rubberneck that trainwreck and we will remember your name and we won't touch your work with a ten foot pole. Why would anyone do this? But yet they do and it always ends, well, awfully for the offended party.
So I say leave that one star review alone. It can be a good thing! I kid you not. Here are some books I bought because a key word in a review caught my eye and I had to know more! For the record, I ended up five starring all of these books (clicking on cover will bring you to the gushy review).
I Want my $ back" "Too much sex"
Why am I posting this? Well there was a little kerfluffle on Twitter over the weekend that reminded me that a reminder is overdue! An author took up the Anne Rice mantle and wrote up a petition to have GoodReads change their evil ways. Demanding they stop allowing people to write whatever they want to write (no "nasty" comments - who determines the nasty?) and disallowing them the ability to star books without writing reviews amongst other demands. She later backtracked and deleted her #AuthorsRiseUp account as well as the petition. But I saw it and quite a few others did as well. It gave me the shivers! Oh also, here's another reminder that people sometimes forget. Once you post something on the internets, it is out there on the internets forever. Yes, even if you delete it You can read the text of the petition here if you so choose.
And that story about the lawsuit threat? I wish I could say that I made it all up but it's real. Yep, someone did that. Over. A. Reader. Review.