Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sick Sick Sick

Yep - all weekend was me huddled in a ball and whimpering. I don't know what happened for the past few days, whether it was a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion, I was oblivious. I was out. I still am, but I'm so heavily medicated at the moment that I feel well enough to post something.

During my illness I had that malady that not only saps your strength, will to live, and ability to enjoy anything. But the most curious thing is that it makes my eyes feel like they are on fire. I can't look at a screen, be it TV, Laptop, iPad, iPhone, or what have you. It feels like someone is poking my eyes with a hot poker.

So what is a man to do? Well, I did two things, one, my wife is a huge audible listener, and has a huge library of books for me to choose from, I just pick the one I want and listen away. Thank goodness I talked her into downloading The Dresden Files books a while back, well a couple of them anyway. So I closed my eyes and listened to Harry get in all sorts of scrapes and jams while the hours of misery melted away.

But I can only keep my eyes closed for so long, in those brief interludes when I had my fiery eyes open I found I could read a book. A real life, non-digitized, honest to god, book. Funny that I had just received one in the mail. So that was my second thing.

Anyone who followed either my blog, or Andrew's, knows that I helped him with the cover a few months back. He, without any request from me by the way, was kind enough to send me a hard copy with a fantastic inscription on the inside. I spent some time admiring the feel of the book for a bit, and carried it around for a day or two, looking at it, flipping it over, wondering why I did some of  the things I did in the design, wondering what I could have done better, all that sort of stuff.

Now, I have posted before about my unease in regards to reviewing books from Indie authors - I had read some Indie books that I enjoyed, some that I managed to read but not feel very strongly about, and one in particular that I thought was a travesty to the written word (I promise that one was from someone who has never visited this blog). I have tried to keep pretty silent about how I feel about what I've read. I mean, If I were to give Cindy Borgne a glowing review of her book, Vallar and then read and dislike someone else's book then what do I do? Rip them to shreds publicly? I mean, someone who pours their heart and soul into something like you have to in order to write a novel doesn't deserve to be beaten up by another author, it feels like a conflict of interest. I can lie and say I loved it, or I can never mention it and hope they don't think I am ignoring them. Which is why I have tried to not review any Indie books. Understood?

So, Andrew asked if I would be willing to give this a review. I wrote him an email and told him my concerns, he wrote back and said something that... well, I don't actually recall what he wrote, and I'm too tired to go back through my emails to find it, but he essentially said that his fear is not bad reviews, it's obscurity. He said he'd rather I be honest, and talk about the book, than never mention it. So, after getting permission from him to be honest, here are my thoughts:

Andrew Leon's novel, The House on the Corner whisked me away to when I was kid. Specifically, at an age when I thought I was going to find a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull just under the dirt at my feet if I would just dig a little deeper, or that I would discover a secret formula for super strength by mixing my mom's household cleaners together in a mad chemistry experiment (didn't work FYI - but I did discover a powerful grass killer). That's what this book is, it's a big what if. What if something amazing like that really did happen? What if that feeling we all had when we were kids wasn't just an overactive imagination, what if there really was something waiting to be discovered? I get it. And I loved it.

To be honest, it left me sighing with relief. I know Andrew well enough that I was afraid I might not like it - and was struggling to try to think of a way to put a positive spin on something I might not enjoy. But when I got sick just as I was starting it meant I ended up in bed with nothing else to do for the most part. I read the whole thing in about two extended reading sessions while cooped up and hidden from the world.

The story is set pretty firmly in the summer and fall of 1983, not too long after Return of the Jedi hit the theaters. It's the story of three siblings, Tom, the eldest, Sam, the middle child, and Ruth, the youngest, as they move into their new home that a few of the neighbors think is haunted.

The author has clearly made this novel a heartfelt homage to his youth, and his influences. I haven't read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, since I was probably 9, but even I got excited when the kids found a wardrobe in the attic and they got their hopes up that they would be transported to another world. I loved the references to Star Wars, to D&D, to everything a boy would have loved at that time. For a while, I was living through those kids as they discovered what was really going on with the house.

It was refreshing to read about an entire family that all loved one another, the kids weren't orphans, abused, or runaways. It was a family that was full of love for one another, and how they relied on one another when it mattered. We alternate POV's from chapter to chapter with each of the children. Tom's POV was my favorite. He was the most conflicted of the three siblings and had the most baggage to deal with. It was him that I latched onto and I really felt anchored me to the larger story.

But, the story wasn't perfect, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of things.

1) The pacing. I think it took too long to really start getting into the meat of the plot. As much as I loved Tom, Sam, and Ruth, after a while I was losing faith that anything at all was going to happen. Part of the story's charm is the siblings interaction with one another, but at the same time, that lack of a conflict, at least early on, makes it hard to sustain the story while they explore and learn about their new home.Yes, they bickered, a lot, but I never got that there was anything menacing or threatening as an undercurrent, it was just kids being kids. So part of that charm I mentioned earlier is also part of the pacing problem. There isn't a real sense of physical danger, or emotional turmoil, at least not enough to carry the story as long as it did. I think I understand why the author chose to reveal so slowly, it was after all, an exploration novel more than anything, but as a reader, I'm not sure it worked as effectively as he intended.

2) This is more of quibble, but through the book a theme of trust that the family has with one another was developed, the mother and father were the kind of parents every child should dream of having. They paid attention to their kids, they spent as much time together as they could. They loved being parents and loved their children, they addressed their kids with respect and were honest with them. Then, in my opinion, that was betrayed, I thought, late in the book. I won't spoil it but giving away details, but the scene leading up to the climax of the novel left me a bit flummoxed, as I couldn't understand why the adults would do what they did to the children. I understand their motivations, but again, I thought it was woefully out of character for everyone. It left me a bit frustrated.

But those are not show stoppers. My second complaint might be alleviated if there had been a rationale put forward to explain - a rationale I could believe given the characters as they were established earlier in the book.This was a marvelous novel and had a magical feel to it, as soon as I finished I wanted to go watch E.T., The Goonies, and any other 80's flick I could think of about kids discovering that the world was stranger than anyone ever dreamed of.

It was a great novel and belongs in everyone's library. Especially  if you grew up as a child of the 80's.


Rogue Mutt said...

I'll have to look into reading that book at some point. When I review other self-published books I try to focus on the good stuff and downplay the negatives. Maybe that makes me a sell-out or something.

Laila Knight said...

Ah so you have the flue, sounds like the attach of lycanthropy I had last month. Hope you feel better soon. I can't believe you have the energy to read. I'm up for any book that makes me feel like a kid again. The faults you pointed out are what make me leary to get a book published without a lot of heavy duty editting from a professional. Still sounds like a fun book. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry you were half-dead this weekend.
Your cover for the book is really awesome. Is it available in the iBookstore?
Other than Goodreads, I won't post reviews. (After reading one recently by an author I know and not getting past the third chapter, I decided that was probably a good policy.)
Sometimes there are suprises though. Jessica Bell asked me to review the CD that accompanies her upcoming book release and I was really hesitant, because I knew it wasn't my type of music. However, it was amazing, so I'll have no problem posting a good review for her blog tour.

KarenG said...

I haven't been sick like that in such a long time, knock on wood, not since I had kids in grade school bringing home their germs on a regular basis. Glad you're back.

Michael Offutt said...

I haven't gotten to this book yet as I have several I'm reading all at once. But it is on my Nook

Caledonia Lass said...

Well I certainly hope you feel better. I hate being sick! But good review on this book. I will have to check it out for myself. :D

Get better!

Cindy said...

I understand how you feel about the reviews. It gets complicated when you're also a fellow write. Hope you feel better soon.

Andrew said...

Wow! I'm glad you liked it. You couldn't have stated better the feeling I was trying to invoke with the book.
And, yes, I know it starts slow. It was, actually, on purpose. I've had some internal conflict over it, and I spent a lot (LOT) of work on chapter 4, which, initially, really slowed the book down. However, the reactions I've had from the kids (at my kids' school) when I'm reading it to them convinced me to leave it as it is.
As for your second thing... well, there is a reason this one is called the "First Person Edition." Those things you mention will be addressed in the "Third Person Edition."

Thanks for the review, Rusty! I really wasn't expecting one, so it was a great surprise to read your post, today. And, I have to admit, reading you talking about your reaction to the story brought tears to my eyes.

Nancy said...

The title of your blog could have been the title of mine for this last weekend. Maybe we can blame Lou :). Nice honest review but I think the overall policy is a good one in terms of keeping friendships and your integrity intact because at some point one of those will suffer.

Munk said...

Character and plot building while keeping a brisk pace is a challenge.

Well reviewed.

Andrew said...

Oh, hey, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, could you post your review on Amazon and Goodreads?

And wait till you see what's coming up for Tom in Brother's Keeper. Talk about conflicted!

Rusty Webb said...

Well, I'm not really that much better at responding via email than I am in the comments. On top of that, I seem to forget who I've responded to and who I haven't. I'm actually making things more complicated.

Rogue - Yeah, sell out. No, not really. Well, a little. I mean, kinda. Whatever. I'm not judging, we all have to figure out what we're comfortable with. Although, as it stands I'd like to think your reviews are pretty awesome. I can't think of the last indie review I've read from you. But - if you read something that you thought sucked would you be able to let me know? I mean, keep me from suffering by reading it too? If so, how can you accentuate the positives and still let me know to stay away?

Laila - Being sick sucks, I'd think Lycanthropy would be pretty awesome to have. Better than the flu, or whatever it was. I'm still not well.

Alex - good advice I'm sure. I'm not sure if it's available for iBooks yet or not. I emailed Andrew and asked, I'll let you know what he says.

Karen - Thanks, good to be back.

Michael - I understand. I think I have my next three dozen books already lined up. I remember when I used to have no idea what I was going to read after I finished a book. Ah, those were the days.

Caledonia - Well, thanks. I'm sure Andrew would appreciate you checking it out.

Cindy - Yes, I've still not come to terms with it. I'm not sure I ever will be comfortable with it.

Andrew - It is tough finding the right balance, you always have to go with your gut when making decisions. I totally understand.

Nancy - Lou made us sick? I bet it was smallpox!

Munk - agreed. If it were easy, well, then I would be a moron, because I still can't figure it out.

Andrew - looking quite forward to it.