Let me just start out by saying that I love Michelle Davidson Argyle's blog: The Innocent Flower. I love her writing there, and I love what she has to say about her experiences in publishing. She's honest and open about what she goes through and how things affect her, and it's a nice change of pace from the front that many authors put up about their experiences with their publishing houses. Not that Michelle has anything bad to say about Rhemalda, her publisher, but it's not the white wash, everything is hunky dory you see most places. The all is great and wonderful in the land of traditional publishing that traditionally published authors tend to regurgitate constantly. Michelle has both self-published, Cinders (which I still need to read), and been published traditionally, albeit by a small publisher, Monarch, so she often approaches things with a view from both worlds. If you don't already follow her blog, you should go do that.
Having said all of that, this is a difficult review for me to write. I've been planning on doing Monarch as the first book of my review challenge since well before I had the name "Unexpected Applause" for that challenge.
[As an aside: this is a review CHALLENGE. As in, I also challenge all of you out there reading this to pick up at least one independently published book a month and, at least, read it, but, preferably, review it. People out there self-publishing and going through small publishers need the exposure.]
Michael Offutt reviewed it, loved it, gave it 5 stars, so I was really looking forward to the read when I finally got my copy.
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the book as much as Michael did. In fact, it was rather difficult for me to get through.
Before I go on, though, let me say a couple of things:
1. The book is a thriller/romance, and neither of those are my genres. The last thrillers I read were near to 20 years ago when I had a brief fling with Tom Clancy. Clancy is probably the best there is at thrillers, and he only held my attention for a handful of books, even if I did love the ones I read. It just wasn't meant to last. As for romances... I read one once. School assignment.
2. I had issues with the editing. But more on that in a moment.
What I'm getting at here is that the main issues I have with the book are not necessarily the fault of the author. Monarch is not a book I would pick up while browsing through the book store; I wouldn't even be in the right section to find it. As such, I just couldn't drum up the appropriate amount of interest in the story. And, then, there was the editing.
I've never had the editing in a book stand in the way of my enjoyment of the book before. Not that I haven't found the occasional error, but, really, those have never been anything more to me than "oh, one got through." Monarch, though, was different. The issues were so prevalent that I couldn't stay engaged with the story. Maybe, this is just my own personal issue. I haven't seen anyone else mention this stuff, after all, but it was an issue for me.
I actually had a discussion with the author about this stuff, and, although she didn't agree with all of the editing choices, she was willing to sacrifice the grammar to the fact that she didn't lose editorial control over the story. And I can understand that. At the same time, my reaction for myself is "I would never have agreed to that." But Michelle's view was that most of these issues were trivial, and, in the end, she was happy with the product. Which is all that really matters.
So, maybe, it is just me. Maybe the "mistakes" shouldn't have bothered me so much, but they did. Here are the main ones, just so you know what I had issues with. Maybe if I'd known about these things going in and the author's view on them, they wouldn't have caused me so many problems, but the teacher in me kept urging me to get out my little red pen.
1. the word "OK" -- The editor made the choice to use "OK" rather than "okay" in the text. In all places. I can't get behind this. I know people use "OK" all the time, but I don't think that makes it okay to use in a professional paper. Of any kind. You can't use "OK" in Scrabble, so it shouldn't be used in a book. And it was a fairly commonly used word throughout the book, and, because it was "OK," it just glared off the page at me.
2. the word "alright" -- "Alright" has become common in popular usage, but this isn't really a word. Not yet. The correct form is "all right." I know that language changes and evolves, but "alright" is still considered an abbreviated form of "all right," and, like with "OK," abbreviations shouldn't be used in the narrative text of a book. Besides, the correct form of "alright" shouldn't even be "alright;" it should be "al'right."
[Yes, I expect that some of you will disagree with me about one or both of these, and that's okay. My wife disagrees with me about "alright" and says I'm being too much of a stickler, but that's how I feel about it, and it was an issue for me in the book.]
3. There were comma issues throughout the book. Yes, I know that comma usage can be subjective, but there are some actual hard rules, and I tend to believe that hard rules should be followed. Unless you are making a stylistic choice for some reason, in which case the usage should be consistent. The comma usage in Monarch seemed much more haphazard to me. Now, to be fair, most of the "mistakes" are not things the average reader will notice, so, in the grand scheme, they may not really matter, but, for me, they were a huge issue. I'll give you a sample, so you'll understand what I'm talking about:
--p. 1: "A muffled pop from the silencer and it was over."
should be: "A muffled pop from the silencer, and it was over."
--p. 1: "Blood meant death and death reminded him of Annabelle."
should be: "Blood meant death, and death reminded him of Annabelle."
--p. 3: "Footsteps followed him down the hallway and he broke into a run out the back door."
should be: "Footsteps followed him down the hallway, and he broke into a run..."
--p. 3: "He hadn't lived here for two years, but even before then he was hardly home."
should be: "He hadn't lived here for two years, but, even before then, he was hardly home."
--p. 3: "Except now he had been betrayed."
should be: "Except now, he had been betrayed." or "Except, now, he had been betrayed."
That's the first three pages, and those are just examples of the "hard" rules for comma usage. There are two more places where I would have used commas differently, but those are "soft" rule spots. Still, the ones that bothered me the most were the ones like this:
--p. 15: "He could handle the pain, but was glad he'd found the fedora in the car he'd stolen."
should be: "He could handle the pain but was glad..."
I can't understand the inclusion of the comma in this sentence when they were left out of actual compound sentences.
And there are some places where the comma is inserted after the conjunction, so it looks like this: "blah blah blah but, was blah blahing." (These happen frequently, but I couldn't find a specific example upon a casual perusal.)
As I said, these are probably not an issue for the average reader, but I couldn't get past them. Maybe that's completely my issue. I don't really know. I also don't know how much I may have enjoyed the book if I hadn't been constantly tripped up by the commas.
What I can say is this:
If you like romance, this could be a book for you. There's not one, but two, love triangles, so there's plenty of romantic tension.
If you like thrillers, this could be a book for you. There's plenty of action and squished termites to keep you going. And blood.
Oh, and there are the butterflies.
Michelle has written a book that a publisher thought highly enough to back, and that's a great thing. She's proud of her work, and that's also a great thing.
Monarch isn't quite my thing, but it might be yours. If this feels like it could be your genre, you should check it out. Especially if the grammar isn't an issue for you.
As I said in my first Unexpected Applause post, books are a matter of taste. I didn't prefer this one, but I'm not saying it's a bad book; it's just one I didn't like. Michelle deserves a big round of applause for not just writing a book, but writing a book a publisher is standing behind. And her writing is compelling enough that I want to read Cinders even though I didn't care for Monarch. And her next book has dragons, so I'm really looking forward to that one.
I hope I've given a round enough view of Michelle and her work that those of you that do like the whole thriller/romance thing will be willing to give Monarch a chance. Despite any issues I had with the editing. I do have to say that I can completely respect Michelle's view that the comma issues aren't that important. I wish I could see it that way, too. Maybe I do just need to loosen up.
As a final note, I want to reiterate this whole thing about getting reviews. I want my book, The House on the Corner, to be read and get reviews. As such, I have to be willing to get reviews that... aren't always so good. To support the idea that reviews are important and that "young" authors need the support of reviews, even reviews that aren't always glowing 5 star reviews, I feel it's important for me to do reviews. If I'm going to do reviews, I have to be willing to give reviews that aren't always great. My reviews won't mean anything if I just say every book I read is great. Like I said before, the fact that I don't like a particular book may clue someone else in to the fact that s/he might like it. But I don't want to hurt anyone's career, either, so, mostly, the reviews are just for my blog.